We’ve moved!!

Because this blog is growing, and because I am growing rather fond of it, I have decided to shift it to it’s very own space, with it’s very own domain name. For everyone who has subscribed to the blog, don’t worry! I have switched the feed so you should be receiving updates as normal. And I will also leave this blog live in case there are any links to the blog, however if you come to this site after today, thebooktiger.wordpress.com will no longer be updated.

However, The Book Tiger is continuing her quest over at http://www.thebooktiger.co.uk, so why not come over and join us.

Hopefully I have managed the migration OK, but if I have missed anything or messed it up, you can contact me via any of the ways outlined on the contact page. Otherwise, see you over at The Book Tiger…

Not long after Dan Brown skyrocketed to success with The Da Vinci Code, there arose a plethora of “Da Vinci Code clones”. You can always tell them because the reviewers comments on the front or back cover usually say something like “a rival to Dan Brown” which suggests that the book is going to involved some kind of ancient religious tradition and a page turning thriller. The Righteous Men was one of these. I am not dismissing it outright, because it wasn’t that bad, but the thriller aspect didn’t quite take my breath away, and the end of the world cataclysm didn’t have me wondering whether it could really be true. It was more a pleasant romp than a breathless race.

The main character is Will, a Brit and a journalist for the New York Times who stumbles on to a series of murders which seem at first to be completely unrelated. When his wife is kidnapped, he finds himself on a two day roller coaster ride through the depths of orthodox Judaism and Christian cults, accompanied by his trusty ex-girlfriend, TC, and a penchant for ignoring advice and getting into trouble. You can start to see the formula already. Of course, the thrilling climax supposedly surprises everyone (I unfortunately had figured it out quite a while before then) and, in true Dan Brown fashion they all live happily ever after.

Yes, it was interesting to find out some of the ancient Jewish traditions around which the whole story is based, but I still wasn’t that excited by it. Oh, how spoilt I have all become! Although I understand why publishers like formulas, and I do love my crime fiction (which is about as formulaic as they come), I do think this theme has run its course. Brown was a phenomenon. Most of those books coming after his feel like they have just jumped on his bandwagon – which sadly has already left.

Rating: 5/10
ISBN: 0007203306
Publisher: HarperCollins
Year: 2006
Date finished: 18 June 2008
Pages: 576
Challenges: B in the A-Z Challenge

I received this book as an Early Reviewer on LibraryThing and started it soon after I had come down from the hype of the previous book I had finished. Perhaps it was because of that proximity to my previous read, but what a come down it was. Although I fought my way to the end of this book, it was like trying to swim in treacle for much of it and I found myself wondering whether I could “cheat” and say I finished when I actually put it down halfway. I didn’t cheat – I did finish it, but it was a tough book to get through and I wasn’t sure that I felt it was worth it.

To be fair, The Collector of Worlds is a translation, which can make the writing difficult. The author had chosen the story of the Victorian explorer, Sir Richard Burton, as his subject. Burton had spent his life travelling India, Africa and the Middle East, adopting languages, cultures and religions as he went. He seems to be constantly searching for the new and the different – a trait I admire. However, unfortunately the book turned Burton into a detached character drowning in a sea of extraneous words and excruciating (and not particularly necessary) descriptions and monologues. The book is divided into three parts – the first covers Burton’s early journey to India and his adoption of Islam. It is narrated (in part) by his ex-servant in a manner which I found somewhat contrived. The second describes Burton’s trip to Mecca, explained in part by a number of Turkish officials who were exploring his motives after the fact. The final story finds Burton in Africa, searching for the source of the Nile, and partially narrated by one of his guides.

This tripartite division does little for the coherence of this historical novel. In fact, the switch between each part is jarring. I found the middle part the most difficult to get through – the paragraphs were so dense at times, I found myself skim reading over pages in order to try and pick up the thread of the story again. The disappointing part was that those pages I skimmed were necessary, it seemed, only to demonstrate the author’s erudition. His erudition may be admirable, but as a reader it bored me to tears. This book could have done with a good editor who could have reduced it down significantly from the 450+ pages it currently stands at. Perhaps then the experience of reading it might have been a little more pleasant.

The ending was really odd. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say Burton eventually dies in his old age, but even that was drawn out to an unecessary degree – not Burton’s passing, but the ‘crisis’ of the priest of presided over his death. By that stage, I was desperate to get the book finished and move onto something else. It was the nail in its coffin so to speak.

Were there any redeeming features? I think bringing the story to life in novel form is a good tactic – I know when I first heard the name I could only think of the actor. I also can’t fault the author’s research on the subject and the surrounding context, but rather than telling me everything, tell me enough and keep the story readable.

Rating: 2/10
Date Finished: 12 June 2008
Challenges: 4/8 of The Pub Challenge

I was sent a proof copy of this book to review several weeks back, prior to its general release. When I was contacted I received a couple of paragraphs to whet my appetite. Without knowing what to expect, or what kind of book it was going to be, I allowed myself to be sold by the paragraphs – there was something within the intelligent turns of phrase that made me want to read more. The book arrived and I read…and I am still reeling from the experience. The Gone Away World is an incredible work of imaginative fiction which, once I had read the last page, I was sorely tempted to turn back to the front and start all over again.

The Story

The story is set on earth, but it is an earth which has been all but destroyed by a war which has essentially destroyed everything short of a narrow band of the ‘livable zone’, maintained thanks to the looming presence of the Jorgmund Pipe. I was confused by the first chapter, as the book launches at a time when the war has been over for a while, our narrator and his friends are almost renegade heros, and they have been called to save the world (again) as it seems the life giving, or more accurately, the normality giving Pipe is on fire. Chapter 2 jumps back to the childhood of our narrator and his best friend, Gonzo Lubitsch, in a fashion I found slightly jarring. I had so many unanswered questions from the first chapter, that the embarkation on the growing up and coming of age story confused me. However, as the book progresses, and the boys grow up, go to university and eventually join the army, it becomes to come clear. The war that was mentioned in the first chapter becomes a reality, and the whole reason for the earth’s destruction becomes clear.

Because of Harkaway’s chosen genre, the book blends familiar reality with unfamiliar absurdity. As time goes on, the absurdity becomes the norm but in a way which almost seems real. We never know the name of our narrator because he appears not to have a name. I only began to wonder about that when the story finally caught up with the first chapter, by which time I was so hooked I couldn’t put it down. Before long, a revelation occurs which turns the life of our narrator and Gonzo upside down, if indeed that were possible after all they had been through. But Harkaway is incredibly adept at drawing the threads of the story together, of confusing the reader only to have them exclaim “of course!!” when it becomes clear, and of painting it all with a vivid brush of imagery both banal and amazing.

You come across ninjas, mimes, circus performers, executives, martial arts masters and your darkest nightmares, but you take such absurdity in your stride. Because ultimately the world has irreversibly changed in the war, making the unbelievable completely expected. It is a strange but wonderful world he has created – one I didn’t want to leave.


In my opinion, the book falls within the realms of speculative fiction. Science fiction is too old fashioned and inaccurate a term for it. Perhaps I am still old school and think of Isaac Asimov whenever I hear of science fiction, but The Gone Away World was a completely new experience. This is Nick Harkaway’s first novel, and it demonstrates his ability with words and imagery. He writes with a wry humour that only lightly masks the depth of his themes. He clearly loves language and metaphor. He weaves single word exclamations in with multi paragraph descriptions of Tupperware containers to provide a pace that generally avoids getting bogged down. If I were to make a criticism, it would be that perhaps he was a little too wordy. Particularly at the beginning, where I was suffering from confusion as well, I found some of the lengthy descriptions a bit tedious. Yet, I felt it improved as the book progressed. It is a long book and perhaps reducing some of this wordiness could make the book a little more accessible, however I would not wish to be the editor and sacrifice some of Harkaway’s wonderful turns of phrase.


The theme that struck me most was that of the nature of war. Harkaway’s war is not like other wars. Rather than destruction, the bombs that are dropped in this war obliterate everything. They are Go Away bombs – bombs which remove all of the information from matter and energy leaving absolutely nothing. If you are in the path of a bomb you literally disappear, along with everything else in the bomb’s radius. This kind of weaponry makes the atom bomb look archaic. But the annihilation is total – and once the world has Gone Away, then by virtue of nature, something must take its place. And it is this something which the executives and corporate machine which is left over after the war tries to control and curb. But it is this something which is as much a result of human action as the war itself, and it cannot be controlled.

I loved the comment on the violence and destructive tendencies of human nature, and the fear and distrust of change, even if that change is perpetrated by humans in the first place. Yet amongst that, there are still heroes. People still fall in love, they still form lasting friendships, and they still stand up for the underdogs or the misunderstood. Thus, this is a heroic fairy tale – it has all of the ingredients. But it is a fairy tale which is so relevant to modern society with our ever more powerful weapons and our ever more futile and childish political squabbles. It is a fairy tale which delivers a message of caution, alongside a message of hope as voiced by the narrator, whose life seems to fall right in the centre of it all.


I absolutely loved this book and it has driven me to broaden my horizons when it comes to genre. I would comfortably read more speculative fiction and I will be looking forward to more by this author. Although The Gone Away World may not have the read-on-the-train appeal of some of the trashy fiction which you can get today, for any intelligent reader who has an imagination and a sense of humour, you simply can not go wrong.

Rating: 10/10
ISBN: 9780434018420
Publisher: William Heinemann (Proof Copy)
Date: 2008
Date Finished: 4 June 2008
Pages: 532

I am a book aficionado, and therefore I tend to avoid seeing movies which are based on books. Actually, as you probably already know I tend not to watch TV much at all, and I don’t like having my own imagination curbed by what is shown on the screen. I tend not to like books which have a picture from the film as a cover, although Breakfast At Tiffany’s strangely didn’t trouble me – partly because I had never seen the film and partly because the character of Holly Golightly in the book was so unlike Audrey Hepburn to me that I had to paint her differently.

We discussed this book in our reading group last night and we were polarised. Many of my fellow book group members found the stories depressing and unpleasant, dealing with unsavoury topics such as prostitution and under-age marriage. Oddly, I had viewed the main story as well as the three other stories in the book – House of Flowers, A Diamond Guitar and A Christmas Memory – as being quite uplifting. I adored Holly’s abandon and flippancy. I adored her need for freedom and her embracing of adventure. Yes, I could see that underwriting this all was the opposing theme of the need for stability, but she just made me smile.

Apparently, Holly Golightly was the fictional embodiment of Capote’s own thoughts and philosophies. As a 5ft 4in, openly homosexual eccentric with a very distinctive high-pitched voice and odd mannerisms and dress sense, Capote understood the struggles with social convention that Holly battles with. In his later life, Capote turned to alcohol and substance abuse to cope with these struggles and his “red” moods or depression. The fact that Holly seemed to cope with them by searching for further adventure could in some way be seen as sad, but to me it seemed that she refused to let go of what it meant to be alive.

The other three stories can also be seen as depressing or joyous, depending on your viewpoint. I read House of Flowers as being about falling in love, and choosing to stay that way when even temptation returns. A Christmas Memory appeared to be somewhat autobiographical, and the description of a wonderful Christmas tradition in the face of poverty was lovely. Granted, A Diamond Guitar was the one story of the four which was unhappy, but it was nevertheless written in a way which caused to you to think.

Considering Breakfast at Tiffany’s was released in 1958, the themes of homosexuality were difficult ones to face at the time. This explains why the main character was so sanitised for the Hollywood version. Perhaps if the film was remade today, the screenwriters may not shirk away from exploring aspects that Capote clearly meant to address? Although even so, I would still prefer to read the book.

There are a couple of alternative reviews which I have found which are worth a look at.

Rating: 7/10
Publisher: Penguin
Date Finished: 27 May 2008
Challenges: 2/8 of Category 2 – American Fiction for the 888 Challenge

It is said that In Cold Blood is the first and finest of the genre of true crime novels, and if it was first, I don’t know, but it was certainly fine. It told the story of the horrific murder of the Clutter family in 1959 by two ex-cons, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. One night, the two entered the Clutter house and shot Herb, his wife Bonnie and his two children, Nancy and Kenyon, with a view to robbing them. The perpetrators left the bloody scene with just under $50.00, a radio and a pair of binoculars.

Unlike most fictional crime novels, there wasn’t an enormous amount of suspense leading up to the event, and at no time did you not know who it was who had committed the crime. Even the motive was established by half-way through the book. Because of this, it should have been a difficult read, and Capote did take great pains to include long descriptions, testimony and psychological assessments, which made for some dense writing at times. And yet, the book was incredibly compelling. The author had spent years meticulously researching and interviewing in order to achieve the thoroughness of In Cold Blood and that most definitely shows. His writing style drives you forward, if for nothing else but to try and understand.

I found that Capote was extremely impartial in his writing. His presence was never once felt. He didn’t pass judgement, nor did he deliberately arouse sympathy or hatred, which made it very unusual to read. Despite the horror of the crime, Capote’s research had exposed both killers to be flawed and yet altogether human individuals. You couldn’t hate them. Indeed, as several of the characters who came across the pair when they were incarcerated said, the worst you could feel was pity. Of course, being a true crime novel, it was very satisfying hunting around on the internet for photographs of the key players. Yet the photos did not change the impression that the author had given.

This is a masterful work, exploring the combined incomprehensibility and familiarity of the human mind.

Rating: 8/10
ISBN: 978-0-14-1418257-5
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2000
Date Finished: 27 May 2008
Pages: 336
Challenges: 1/8 of category 2: American Authors for the 888 Challenge

I am writing this review as one stop on Tristi Pinkston’s virtual book tour. I was asked to take part and Tristi kindly sent me a copy of the book to read which, as you all know by my voracious reading habits, wasn’t a difficult job to accept. Before I review the book, there is one disclosure I feel I should make. My religious beliefs differ greatly from those portrayed by Tristi in this historical story of her family. Personally, I am an atheist and I am also against organised religion – which meant I had to approach this book differently from many other reviewers. Being aware of my views I tried to step back from emotion as I read it and view it as a fascinating historical document.

Theme and history

Season of Sacrifice tells the story of Ben Perkins, a Welsh Mormon who immigrated to Utah in the mid nineteenth century to join many others who also subscribed to the same religion in building a new life. That life was built on risk and danger as they travelled to places previously unsettled by white people in the American landscape and tried to make a life for themselves. The story follows not only the physical hardships of Ben, his beloved wife Mary Ann and his family, but also the emotional difficulties that were faced in the name of their faith – specifically the hurt which arose from his decision to take Mary Ann’s sister Sarah as his second wife. Tristi is descended from Ben and Sarah, and therefore approaches the story in a considerate way, while never avoiding the reality of what the two sisters must have felt.

The theme is one of faith in the face of unavoidable human emotion and hardship. The characters’ faith is unswerving, but the aspect I found interesting was that even faith can’t stop you feeling. So often, historical books shy away from touching on the emotional aspect of people’s lives because emotions were rarely documented in historical records. This book has a historical backdrop, but reads like a fictional novel, with all expressions of feeling given pride of place.

The theme of faith and pioneering permeate the entire story. For me, it was eye-opening to see how much a religion drove people’s lives and choices, even if those choices brought danger or destruction to life or feelings. But irrespective, the choices shaped the country and echo through to this day.

Structure and Style

Tristi wrote this novel over a very short period of time, and makes it very clear which aspects are based in fact and which have been subject to fictional licence. I liked the fact that she took the time to provide this information, as it made it easy to explore those aspects of actual history which caught my attention. It is very easy to read, making good use of dialogue to maintain the pace. Tristi’s style is not complex – she is there to tell a story and she does that well. I did pick up a couple of typographical errors (which I always seem to spot, no matter which books I read!) so perhaps it could have been proofread a little more carefully, but nevertheless it wasn’t a difficult book to finish.


Of course, it is always difficult to take oneself and one’s own beliefs out of the reading experience. This is the reason why I might love one book while the person next to me hates it. It is what makes us all different. One of the things I do subscribe to is learning and understanding, and I am always happy to read books which portray a different view to my own. I think everyone should do it – perhaps if they did there would be more tolerance and views which were based on education and understanding rather than views blindly accepted without question.

Tristi Pinkston has crafted a story which has allowed me, as a reader, to do that. She did not come across as preachy, nor did she assume that everyone who read her book would end it feeling warm and comfortable. She did not write just for those who follow a particular creed – rather, she wrote a universally accessible tale, exposed a period of history which those of us outside of the Mormon religion would never have known about, and given a human face to some of the players within that drama.

Have you ever wondered whether a black cat crossing your path really brings you bad luck? How about what the funniest joke in the world is? Are you really connected to Sir Richard Branson by just six degrees? And how can you tell whether someone is actually lying? Richard Wiseman seems to spend his life cogitating over these kinds of questions, but unlike all the rest of us, he then decides he is going to find out what the answer is for once and for all.

Quirkology is a fabulous collection of Richard’s experiments, many of which produce some true surprises. His book successfully brings the fun into science and makes you think about those odd little aspects of life which we take for granted or believe without question. I just love his audacity in his search to find the truth. I have seen Richard speak and watched him perform his magic tricks (he is a magician as well as a scientist) and his book reads exactly like he speaks in person. It is entertaining, engaging and informative all at the same time. It’s a tough book to put down, and if you are ever looking for fascinating after dinner conversation or trivia, this is definitely the book to turn to.

If offered a jumper which had been rubbed in dog poo but not thoroughly laundered, or one which had been worn by a serial killer and thoroughly laundered, which would you prefer to put on? What do you think the majority of people said?

The one point I laughed out loud? Soon after he had been talking about Freud, the following line appeared

“Although Freud claimed to be a scientist, many of his ideas are completely untesticle”

Freudian slip perhaps? Or a deliberate ploy to see if you were paying attention. In either case, I absolutely loved this book and am looking forward to a sequel.

Rating: 9/10
ISBN: 978-0-230-70215-8
Publisher: Macmillan
Year: 2007
Date Finished: 3 May 2005
Pages: 298
Challenges: 4/8 of category 6: Science and Scepticism; W from the A-Z Challenge

A century ago, the art of letter writing was dominant. Correspondence formed the most effective way to communicate, and people wrote letters with the frequency that people write emails today – but perhaps with more thought, more feeling and more emotion than the technological form into which letter writing has evolved. Letters From a Lost Generation provides a heart-wrenching example of how letters can bring people to life again. As a reader, you feel like you are usurping on some of the most touching, private moments of the writers’ lives. It makes you feel incredibly privileged, but it also ensures that you experience all of the emotions which passed between the correspondents.

This book is a collection of letters between Vera Brittain, a VAD during the First World War, and her fiance, Roland Leighton, her brother Edward Brittain, and two of their friends, Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow. Unlike any of the fictionalised accounts of the Great War, this book was all the more poignant because the words were written whilst the war was raging. Tragically, one by one, all four of the young men are killed. The style of the book means that as a reader, you are acutely aware of when their voices fall silent. It is as if you are seeing it all through Vera’s eyes, and feeling her anguish.

The infant relationship between Vera and Roland is the one I found most tragic. The two were so young and had barely had the chance to get to know one another. I remember feeling a similar feeling of loss when I read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It was a sense of anger at the sheer waste. A waste of years, a waste of love and a waste of the future. The first half of this book is dominated by the correspondence between the two, and when Roland is killed, one day before he was due to return home on leave, I had to put the book down in tears.

The book’s themes are pride, loss, maturing and change. All of the key players start out young, idealistic and eager. But as their letters show, this deserts them little by little as the reality of war starts to show. And yet, as public school graduates, officer classes, none fully allow despair to slow them. All of them bravely face their own deaths in their individual ways. Vera acts as their rock and confident, staying with them until their short lives are terminated.

I would be hard pressed to find a more personal account of World War I.

Rating: 9/10
ISBN: 0-349-11152-9
Publisher: Abacus
Year: 1998
Date Finished: 30 April 2008
Pages: 415
Challenges: 5/8 of category 7: Books with WWI as a theme for the 888 Challenge

Child 44 is Tom Rob Smith’s first novel, and it is an incredible way to launch one’s career as a suspense writer. Set in the Soviet Union in the 1950s and connected with real events, the book is intensely disturbing and totally gripping at the same time. What struck me most was how terrible the life was for every citizen of the Soviet Union under Stalin. It was like a different world and it was a wonder that people survived through it.

The story follows the fall of Leo Demidov, who holds a high ranking position in the MGB but becomes the object of hatred of one of his subordinates. His fall from grace finds him investigating a murder in a country where officially murder did not exist. Crime was an aberration which was generally ignored or brushed aside without even the semblance of justice, for fear that its presence would question the perfection of the Communist ideal, where because everyone was equal, crime was unnecessary and therefore was naturally eliminated. But idealistic Communism is an impossible proposition when faced with the worst aspects of human nature, and the crimes Leo finds himself faced with are callous, horrific and terrifyingly regular.

This book oozes paranoia and suspicion, which is why it is so disturbing. It seems that within Soviet Russia, there was no such thing as trust, friendship or love because a simple word to the authorities spelt doom for anyone, irrespective of innocence or guilt. The state apparatus apportioned guilt to anyone who did anything even slightly suspicious. If you looked the wrong way at the wrong person, it could mean death. If you treated a pet belonging to a foreigner, you were a spy. If you even thought negative thoughts about the regime, or were indiscreet enough to mutter them, your future generally comprised of hard labour in a gulag, or execution.

Irrespective of the bravery of Leo and his wife beneath such a hostile regime, the message that stood out so strongly for me in this book is that without trust, without care of another and for another, without confidence, then human life is simply a shadow. It is almost not worth existing, when your entire life is spent wondering whether a misplaced word would result in your arrest. This story is the tale of the absolute worst of human nature. It is brutishness, selfishness, paranoia, hatred, fear and vindictiveness laid bare. I am only pleased that as the story progressed, some of the better sides of human nature began to show out otherwise it would have made for grim reading indeed.

I had to suspend my disbelief a little for the ending. After the man hunt mounted to catch Leo and Raisa, I felt it ended a little suddenly and a little more tamely than I would have thought. I can see that the author has left a couple of hanging threads for the next novel in the series which is fine, but after the pace and excitement of the whole novel, without giving a spoiler, the final pages fell a little bit flat for me. Also, I found myself a little irritated by the style of the dialogue. Rather than

“putting conversation in inverted commas, as is normal”

the conversation was written

– In italics and not marked in inverted commas

Just like uppercase letters are generally read as shouting, in my mind the dialogue throughout felt like it was being whispered or spoken a long distance away. Although perhaps that was the intention.

This is not to detract from an incredibly exciting book and a fantastic first novel. I’ll be on the lookout for this author in the future.

Rating: 8/10
ISBN: 978-1-84737-127-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Year: 2008
Date Finished: 23 April 2008 (at 3.00am!)
Pages: 469
Challenges: 4/8 Category 1 of the 888 Challenge: Crime Fiction; S from the A-Z Challenge; 2/8 from The Pub Challenge