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Other Fiction

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Calico Joe

Calico Joe

John Grisham

31st December 2013

John Grisham's third sports-related character study is a really interesting read, telling the story of two baseball players from the point of view of the son of one. The style of the narration is Grisham's usual, clipped sentences that work as well, if not better, to explain a sporting story as they do his regular legal thrillers.

My UK edition kicks off with an incredibly useful guide to Baseball and its terminology, without which I would have been left completely baffled throughout - it's definitely required reading before starting the story, and it's well written and meant that there was nothing that I didn't understand. I feel that Playing Pizza could have benefitted from a similar guide to American Football.

The story is gripping throughout, and the main character comes through really strongly - it's incredibly believable and there are moments when I found myself slipping into thinking it was an actual autobiography rather than fiction - not something that happens often.

Grisham's books puzzle me a little in how they swing from passable to fantastic, and I'd certainly advise readers not to form a judgement of him from just one novel - the style can be similar and yet the stories dramatically different. I very much enjoyed this one and hope he pens more like it in future.

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News from the Squares

News from the Squares

Robert Llewellyn

28th October 2013

The sequel to Llewellyn's News from Gardenia follows Gavin Meckler's attempt to get home, which leaves him in yet another strange version of the world which he struggles to understand. The style is very reminiscent of the first book, though it explores some different ideas that I found even more interesting.

Like the previous book, it's very much about exploring the possible future that Llewellyn has imagined rather than about the characters or plot, though both feel stronger in this. The plot in particular is much grander and Gavin is a slightly more active character in what's happening, rather than just observing and learning.

While it's not a thrilling adventure, it certainly gives the reader plenty to think about and shows a quantity of character growth that was absent from the first book. It does however repeat the slightly rough feeling, as if it's not been edited or proof-read as thoroughly as it could have been.

An interesting read that's left me looking forward to the next book in the series. The texture of the hardback cover though was horrible on my fingertips, and I found it hard to hold onto the book for any length of time - I doubt this will bother most people though.

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News From Gardenia

News From Gardenia

Robert Llewellyn

21st March 2013

News from Gardenia is a delightful book that looks at a possible future for the world. Gavin Meckler sets out for a short flight in his electric plane, only to discover when he lands that two hundred years have past, and he's now living in an idyllic and slightly creepy utopian future.

I found the world Robert Llewelyn has envisioned to be a fascinating and almost entirely plausible future for Britain and the rest of the world, and the concept of his novel refreshingly different.

The plot however felt like it was only the supporting act - there to give a way to show off the imagined future rather than being of any particular interest in itself. Gavin is a surprisingly bland character (although there are hints this might be by design) and doesn't generate much sympathy in the reader.

I wasn't sure quite what to expect from a story of a positive future, but it works well and made for an interesting read. I look forward to finding out what happens in the sequel and whether we can learn a little more about what's going on and whether there is something more to the plot.

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Race of Scorpions

Race of Scorpions

James Goss

30th January 2013

James Goes crafts an e-novella about a historical assassin, hired by an elderly noble, but who ends up instead serving as detective as her client dies.

I read this in a piecemeal fashion over a period of two months, which means I haven't really absorbed it as well as if I had read it in a quick few sittings, but still I found it entertained me in the few moments I could give it.

The mystery works well, and the range of characters are interesting and could clearly have been taken further. The writing is serious but with a good quantity of humour sprinkled in that makes this a beautiful quick read.

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The Casual Vacancy

The Casual Vacancy

J K Rowling

7th October 2012

JK Rowling's first book for adults depicts life in the village of Pagford, where the untimely death of a parish councillor throws the local populace into complete disarray. Rowling proves that she's not a 'one trick pony' as she explores the lives of an ensemble cast of characters who live surprisingly believable lives.

The book opens well, quickly introducing a range of characters between whom the buck of narrative alignment is passed throughout. The author demonstrates a way with descriptions that paint an amazing picture of the setting in the reader's mind - something that I had forgotten about her previous works since the images from the movies had taken their place. Her skills at building an entire world - though this time on a slightly smaller scale, continue to astound.

It's certainly aimed at a more mature audience, with plenty of sex and drugs and choice language throughout - perhaps many of the things that she was unable to mention in her earlier children's novels coming through. The blend of subtle comedy and gritty realism is just right, with the plot light enough not to put the reader off while dealing with a number of serious issues - all of which she manages to depict authentically and compassionately.

Although there were places in the middle of the book where I felt it was dragged out a little and it was unclear whether the plot was going anywhere, overall the complexity of the story and richness of the range of characters is the most captivating element and I was saddened every time I had to put it down.

To me, this proves Rowling's position as one of the great contemporary authors and, although its never going to be as iconic as Harry Potter is an amazing book that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. Although it seems unlikely there will be a sequel, it only encourages me that there may well be more amazing worlds and stories to explore from JK Rowling.

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The Clan of the Cave Bear

The Clan of the Cave Bear

Jean M Auel

8th August 2012

The Clan of the Cave Bear is an epic tale of Ayla, an orphaned 'Cro-Magnon' girl living 30,000 years ago and brought up by a Neanderthal clan. The level of historical detail is impressive and it's clear the author has done a lot of research into her era, however I found the story to be overly long and had to take a break halfway through to read something else.

The characters are good - the clan is made up of a rounded bunch of individuals who are all compelling and interesting to spend time with. The narrative though flits randomly between alignment with Ayla and other clan members, sometimes within the same paragraph, which makes it difficult to keep track.

There are also plenty of moments where the narration becomes anachronistic and uses metaphors that wouldn't make sense in the setting, and demonstrate amazing foresight, which really jars with the historical setting. Similarly there is a lack of subtlety in the foreshadowing throughout, which left me in no doubt about what was going to happen and willing the plot to move on - for chapter after chapter.

The other big problem I had with the story was the introduction of fantasy elements that seemed unnecessary to the plot, which I felt could have worked without them. This came after quite a good chuck of historical realism so seemed quite out of place.

Overall, I have to give credit to the idea and the characters, but the text itself was overly repetitive and could have been half as long. I was glad to find that the last fifty pages of my copy were actually a preview of the sequel and I could stop reading earlier than expected.

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John Grisham

10th August 2011

This is probably the best book that John Grisham has ever written. It's the story of Neely Crenshaw - a former american football star - who returns home for the first time in fifteen years as his old high school football coach is dying. It's the most emotional thing I've read from Grisham's pen, and the deepest.

There isn't really a plot to this one - it's very unlike Grisham's other books (with the possible exception of Playing for Pizza, which is also football themed), rather it's a character piece about Neely, telling his life story in few words and strong feelings, and yet still taking him on a journey. In this sense it's almost a coming-of-age tale, and is actually one of the best written pieces I think I've ever read.

I have to lay some criticism at its door though - and that's about the american football. I have no clue whatsoever, and so a part in the middle of the book had me completely lost as it described a particular match. Like any sport, if you're not familiar with it, you won't understand the terminology and so won't have a clue what's happening from the description. I think though that Grisham learnt from this though, because the football in his later novel Playing for Pizza is much more accessible to the uninitiated.

If you're looking for a legal thriller in the author's usual line, then skip this, but if you've wondered whether he has it in him to write something a little more powerful, something that connects emotionally, then this is for you.

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Other reviewed books

Skipping Christmas
One of Our Thursdays is Missing
The Lost Symbol
The Rapture
Shades of Grey

Unreviewed books

A Tale of Two Cities
Brave New World
Checking Out
David Copperfield
First Among Sequels
Great Expectations
Hey Nostradamus!
Jennifer Government
Klingon for the Galactic Traveler
Lost in a Good Book
Making History
Nineteen Eighty-Four
Oliver Twist
Playing for Pizza
Saving Charlie
Something Rotten
The Gum Thief
The Hippopotamus
The Klingon Dictionary
The Liar
The Old Curiosity Shop
The Secret Keeper
The Stars' Tennis Balls
The Well of Lost Plots

Top books

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  2. Shades of Grey
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  4. Calico Joe
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  6. One of Our Thursdays is Missing
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  8. News From Gardenia
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  10. The Casual Vacancy
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  12. News from the Squares
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  14. Race of Scorpions