Wednesday, 30 November 2011

We Bought A Zoo

I read We Bought a Zoo a few years ago in my pre-blog days and it's remained one of my favourite non-fiction reads. It's the story behind Dartmoor Zoo but more than that it's the story of a man without a zoological background who one day decided to buy a decrepit zoo with his family. It's the kind of thing you might daydream about doing if you ever won the lottery. But Benjamin Mee wasn't a lottery winner and there's financial struggle as well as personal tragedy.

As I've been following the making of the film version on Twitter from the start, I'm not sure how it didn't register that the film was all very American. I watched the trailer this week...We're not on Dartmoor any more Toto! Understandably they've moved around some of the events and it looks like Ben buys the zoo as an addition to a house, rather than falling in love with the idea of owning a zoo and getting a nice house in the bargain.

I suppose one of the reasons I loved the book because it's the kind of story that you would think was a little far-fetched if it were fiction. There's a leopard Houdini, reminders that there could be something on the other side of the fence reminiscent of Jurassic Park (for those of you that don't know, there's a good chance Dartmoor is home to escaped big cats) and, honestly, who wouldn't be charmed at the idea of owning a zoo? Ben didn't get much chance to make things up either as he was followed by a documentary crew for much of the early days. You can still see repeats of Ben's Zoo on Animal Planet every now and then.

Of course, the reality of running a zoo isn't a smooth path. In the UK, at least, owning exotic animals is highly regulated, not only for the animals' happiness but also for the safety of the people around them. As well as being entertaining, the book is a realistic taste of what working in a zoo entails, something I doubt the film will get across in the same way.

So with the impending film release, there's bound to be a film tie-in cover. I don't like these at the best of times but for a non-fiction book it seems a bit misleading. I'm hoping the UK version at least has animals on it and not the grinning photo of Matt Damon that the US market have been lumbered with. As Dartmoor Zoo pointed out on Twitter, it's much better marketing to have a film tie-in and I guess if it gets people reading it can't all be bad. Never fear, there's still time to get the charming, slightly amateurish looking paperback edition as the film's UK release is 16th March 2012 and a reliable source tells me there are still plenty of copies at the zoo.

One bit of design I do like is the cover art for the soundtrack:

For more information on visiting the zoo, photos and some unique gift ideas (currently on BOGOF too) visit Dartmoor Zoological Park.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Shakespeare's Champion

Things have taken on a darker edge in the second instalment of the Lily Bard Mysteries. The town's champion body builder is found dead at Marshall's gym and all signs point away from accident. With that and the deaths of two others, one a young black man Lily had recently saved in a fight, the racial tension in the town is reaching boiling point.

Shakespeare's Champion started off very much like the first book, with Lily going about her training and cleaning routines and keeping the local men at a distance. However it soon becomes a lot more gripping and I found myself not wanting to put the book down. It feels a lot more like the Sookie stories and I think even if you're disappointed by the lack of supernatural you would still enjoy this series.

I do find myself shocked at some of the attitudes towards the black community in a book that is set in fairly modern times. The fact that even Lily thinks people should be careful who they go out with just highlights how different the Southern states are to the liberal culture I have always lived in.

Monday, 28 November 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

IMWAYR is hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey and is a little round-up of the week for bloggers that read.

It's been a quiet week on the blog, I'm not sure what I'm doing with my time!

Books I've read:
In Praise of Savagery by Warwick Cairns 4/5
The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker 2/5
This is Not Forgiveness by Celia Rees 4/5

Currently reading:
Shakespeare's Champion by Charlaine Harris

Upcoming reads:
Hopefully I'll be cracking open the first of the festive reads this week.

I also blogged about:
Nothing :(

I didn't do my In My Mailbox post yesterday but I did get a few non-fiction books. From Canongate, It Chooses You by Miranda July. The others were a late birthday present (Amazon seems to have it in for my wishlist), The Ancient Guide to Modern Life by Natalie Haynes, Street Art San Francisco and The Photographer's Eye by Michael Freeman. I also received This is Not Forgiveness as part of a UK Book Tour but as you can see I've already read it!

Sunday, 27 November 2011

This is Not Forgiveness

I can't decide what to do with your ashes. It's been nearly a year now. Almost summer again.


This is not forgiveness. Don't think that.

A powerful start. We know Rob is dead. We know there were funerals. We know Rob has done something that cannot be forgiven, not even by those closest to him. The story returns to the start of that summer. Jamie's interested in a girl, Caro, and doesn't have much time for his brother who has been discharged from the army following an injury in Afghanistan. Everyone knows Caro is a slag, expelled for an affair with a teacher, she spells trouble. Jamie's sister warns him off but he doesn't care, he's infatuated.

This is Not Forgiveness tackles the topical issue of how war can affect young people in two very different ways. For some the army is all they know and when injury forces young soldiers to return home they can struggle to fit into civilian life. Especially if they signed up to escape a life that didn't hold much for them in the first place.

Then those that haven't had direct contact with conflict can feel like they don't have a voice without violence. How easy it is to latch onto extremist political views because what they see and hear is wrong and they feel the need to bring about change.

This isn't a book where you'll love the characters but you will be gripped by the events and left thinking after the final page. The first chapter is a fantastic pull in and will keep you reading even when you are starting to hate some of the things the characters are doing. There are three narrators, Jamie, Caro and Rob so there is insight into each of their thoughts and reasoning behind their actions.

I received This is Not Forgiveness as part of a UK Book Tour so keep your eyes out for other reviews across the blogosphere. Feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments. It will be released in paperback and ebook formats 2nd February 2012 and is published by Bloomsbury.

You can read chapter one here but only if you can wait to read the rest!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Crowded Grave

At the site of a ground-breaking archaeological find, a more recent burial is discovered. With an important summit being held in the region, authorities are on the look-out for Basque separatists all the while trying to protect the local foie gras farms from animal activist attacks.

You would think that either Basque separatists or archaeology would provide a fascinating vehicle for a crime novel. However even the dead body takes a back-seat to the foie gras industry. The first 60 odd pages are practically an advertisement for something a lot of non-French people disagree with. Now I'm happy to be re-educated and am aware of ethical foie gras production outside of France but the author has a bit of a well-meaning slip-up when trying to defend it. I quote “the force-feeding of the birds, was also a natural process”.

The word “force” in itself implies the process is not natural. The fatty liver condition that gives us foie gras does indeed occur in the wild when certain species of ducks and geese fatten themselves up for winter. A visit to a local duck pond will demonstrate the birds' fondness for food that isn't healthy for them and I'm sure these foie gras farms could invite local children armed with bags of stale bread on a daily basis and get the same effect as sticking a funnel down the birds' necks.

This disagreement wouldn't have been so much of the issue if Bruno had spent more time investigating that dead body or securing the town for the impending summit. He's only a local policeman, employed by the mayor rather than the gendarme who are the military police of France, so I can understand his job isn't to run murder investigations. If he hadn't have spent so much time eating foie gras that he shouldn't have been able to afford, I might have felt it was part of his job. Instead it came across as indulgent preaching.

Read if you like foie gras or don't mind that being the premise for the story. It's an easy read and I wanted to like Bruno but I just felt a bit let down. I did quite like his dog, Gigi the basset hound.

This is the fourth novel in the Bruno, Chief of Police series by journalist and foodie, Martin Walker.

#1 Bruno, Chief of Police
#2 The Dark Vineyard
#3 Black Diamond
#4 The Crowded Grave

The Crowded Grave is currently available in hardback and ebook formats. Thanks go to Quercus for sending me a copy to review. You can find out more about Bruno and the food of the region at his website.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

In Praise of Savagery

As a young man, Warwick Cairns met legendary explorer, Wilfred Thesiger. At the time, he didn't know who he was. He had gone a long to a meeting of one of those charities that arranges community work in third world countries for youngsters that haven't decided what to do with their lives. A fleeting friendship is formed between the two and Thesiger invites Cairns out to his other home, in Africa.

The cover blurb would have you thinking it was a dramatic account of Thesiger's survival in savage lands but it's far from it. The author's train of thought is somewhat meandering but in a way I enjoyed. Sometimes you may feel like he has gone completely off-topic but it all is cleverly interlinked with his travels to meet Thesiger in Africa and stories from the explorer's past. I found the style engaging with a few laugh out loud moments, especially when he goes to the doctor to get and STD test and explains the reason for his concern.

At times I was unsure when events were taking place. Thesiger's travels are marked with dates but not the author's. At the start it felt a little old-fashioned in places. Where he describes the clerks in the back room of the bank sorting cheques feels like a different age to today (though I imagine some people feel this is all their bank staff do anyway) made me think of an E.M. Forster novel.

The historical aspect takes a bit of a backseat. As second hand accounts, they didn't seem to have the same life as the travel writing even though the content of colonial era exploration would be a fascinating one. However there was something touching about Thesiger and his need for friendship and the end had me in tears. So often the death of a historical figure is skimmed over unless something noteworthy happened. Age simply got the better of him but the description of his last months is so far from how he would have wanted to go out.

Thesiger was also an avid photographer on his travels and you can view some of his work on the Pitt Rivers Museum online catalogue.

In Praise of Savagery is available in paperback or a bargain priced ebook. Thanks to The Friday Project for sending me a copy to review.

Monday, 21 November 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

IMWAYR is hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey and is a little round-up of the week for bloggers that read.

Spent most the week on Covenant so switched to some easy reading to make up numbers last minute!

Books I've read:
Covenant by Dean Crawford 3/5
Hidden by Miriam Halahmy 4/5
Shakespeare's Landlord by Charlaine Harris 3/5

Currently reading:
In Praise of Savagery by Warwick Cairns

Upcoming reads:
The Crowded Grave by Martin Walker

I also blogged about:
Top Ten Unread Books | An Unlikely Saviour | Challenge Time | The Crooked Book | Incoming!

Shakespeare's Landlord

Lily Bard chose the quiet Arkansas town of Shakespeare to escape as the name appealed to her on the map. She's suffered in the past and wishes to keep it there, so she busies herself with her cleaning job and keeping out of trouble. Until one night she sees a body being dumped in the park near her home. Being a cleaning lady she is privy to the secrets of many and her curiosity leads her to investigate further.

I do like Charlaine Harris's easy-going writing style and this was a enjoyable light read. Maybe a few too many pages dedicated to cleaning and working out at the gym for my liking though it did guilt me into putting the book down and doing some cleaning myself! There weren't really enough clues for me to have formed an opinion on who-dunnit so the end was surprising but not in a wholly satisfying way. I will accept that the first instalment of a series needs to set up the characters and I definitely want to read more about them, especially that dishy policeman across the street!

For those of you used to Charlaine's supernatural books, this is a pure mystery (though I'm sure Lily popped up in one of the Sookie books briefly).

Sunday, 20 November 2011


AKA In My Mailbox

Quite a few books in this week although nothing specifically for review so no pressure! First up is the Lily Bard series by Charlaine Harris. I got these for the bargain price of £6.99 for the set from The Book People (and with the bonus of a free postage code).

Then I discovered The Crooked Book, a lovely second hand bookshop within walking distance of where I live. I picked up two Karen Maitland books, both historical fiction, Company of Liars and The Owl Killers. There were lots of Jo Nesbos but I couldn't work out which ones I already had so just got The Leopard. A few bloggers have been reading and recommending The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson recently so was pleased to find it there. Finally, The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. I loved World War Z but never read his earlier book.

Finally, Lainy from So Many Books, So Little Time sent my Flu by Wayne Simmons. She's a big zombie fan and was kind enough to send me Feed earlier in the year.

In My Mailbox is hosted by The Story Siren.


Hayling Island sits off the coast or Portsmouth on the south coast of England. Fourteen year old Alix is walking her dog along the beach one cold spring morning when she witnesses a man being thrown out of a boat. With her at the time is Samir who is a loner at school, constantly bullied for being an immigrant. Together they pull the man out the freezing water and hide him in an abandoned hut on the beach. Alix knows little about asylum seekers but Samir is determined to prevent the stranger from being deported.

It's the first book I've read in a long time where the voice of a teenage narrator actually sounds like the average teenager. She's a normal kid that does an amazing thing but she also has all the insecurities going round in her head. I loved the part where she became convinced that everyone around her might be racist just because they never speak about their opinions and that she'll have to hide away from people for the rest of her life. At the start of the book, she does think some racist thoughts, but not out of malice, partly out of fear and partly out of only hearing about stereotypes.

Hidden highlights how so often prejudices are born out of ignorance. Alix has made assumptions about practically everyone in her life but she soon learns to judge people based on fact and experience. It's a true coming of age story, going from worrying about getting a date to standing up for basic human rights.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Crooked Book

I'm starting to sound like a stuck record but I am so excited about my find today. No not a book, but a whole bookshop! The Crooked Book looks a bit like a cafe from the outside, hence why I must have walked past it several times since it opened. It does sell tea and coffee but behind the tables and retro collectables for sale there are shelves and shelves of second hand books!

The selection is pretty top-notch. Lots of books that I wanted to read and many more than I would try if I didn't have so many already. Prices tended to be between £2-3 so similar to what you'd be paying on Amazon marketplace once you'd forked out for postage. The only downside is that I can't reach the top shelf but the staff are friendly so I'm sure they would assist fellow short-arses.

They also had live music in there this afternoon as a backdrop to browse to. As standard these days there is wifi if you would rather go online than read (or like me, check your Goodreads TBR) and local artwork on the walls (OK I missed this, but apparently they can display their work for a month). There's also bookish events, including an upcoming book launch and open mic poetry nights.

All-in-all, it's something we have been missing in the area and I am very happy to have stumbled upon it today.

The Crooked Book
725 Christchurch Rd
01202 392451


When humanoid bones are found in a remote dig in Israel, scientists start going missing. Ex war correspondent Ethan Warner is called in to conduct a missing persons search for Lucy and keep it under the radar to prevent derailing the peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. However he must take with him Lucy's desperate mother, Rachel, and keep her safe in a troubled land. It soon becomes clear that there's more to these bones than meets the eye. Why are they so important? Are they the bones of our ancestors, a fallen angel or could it be an extra-terrestrial life-form?

Now, I'll freely admit to avoiding "conspiracy thrillers" like the plague. Unfortunately, publishers market them as Dan Brown wannabes which just doesn't appeal to me but I know I'm being prejudiced. As I was sent a copy to review, and I'm all for giving every genre a shot, I'd thought I'd better see what I was missing out on. To be fair, the blurb says it's more like Michael Crichton and it does have a science element. Although when the science or history just got interesting it would seem to stop and carry on with the plot. Being over 600 pages long, I certainly wouldn't have wanted extra pages, so I think Crawford is just trying to fit in too much.

Saying that, it is a pacy read so you'll soon whizz through those pages. There are a lot of characters too and I found myself getting confused a little with who's who, a side effect of not enough time spent of developing their personalities. It was also lacking a bit in emotion when people, who you're supposedly meant to care about, die. Description was spent on the actual physicality of their deaths rather than the after-effects. This probably isn't a concern to regular thriller readers and possibly what puts me off them.

With so many characters and things going on, you start to feel the story is being wrapped up when there's 200 pages left to go, yet each character seems to get their own ending. Along side Ethan's adventures in Israel, there is a police investigation running back in Washington DC. I enjoyed this side of it though it also suffered from over-population of characters.

It's positive to see a book that tackles Christian extremist views at a time when everyone thinks it's only other religions that harbour fundamentalists. The evangelical pastor is a rather scary character, and whilst taken to extremes here, there are people like him in the world.

There is a follow-up novel next year, Elixir, and I'd be tempted to know how Ethan gets on with the search for his wife, who disappeared in Israel years earlier. I shall have to wait and see how many pages it's got! Thanks go to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy to review. This is Dean Crawford's first novel and is currently available in paperback and ebook editions.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Challenge Time!

Obviously, I'll be partaking in my own 2012 reading challenge but I've also signed up for a few others. There's so many going around it's impossible to do them all so sorry if I've missed yours. I'm not very good at sticking to pre-planned reading so not going to over-stretch myself and set myself up to fail before I begin.

The fifth What's in a Name challenge is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and involves reading books that fit the following categories:

A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title.
A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title.
A book with a creepy crawly in the title.
A book with a type of house in the title.
A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title.
A book with a something you'd find on a calendar in the title.

The lovely Hannah @ Once Upon A Time is hosting a Terry Pratchett challenge next year. Whilst I'm up-to-date with my Discworld reading, I'd love the excuse to do some re-reads.

And finally, a nice general reading challenge hosted by Book After Book. I'll be challenging myself to somewhere in the region of 150 books but won't confirm that until I know my end of year total. Also, sign-up by the end of the year to be entered into a draw for £30 of vouchers.

I feel I should maybe sign-up to a TBR clearing type too. My general aim is to end the year with less books on my TBR than I started with. I'm not very good at that one!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

An Unlikely Saviour

It would seem to many that Amazon are determined to take over the publishing industry what with their take-over of The Book Depository, selling the latest Kindle at a loss, control of pre-release reviews via the Vine program and the start of their very own publishing wing. There's a lot of doom and gloom going around but on my dark, damp walk home from work I started thinking. In the UK we have an ally... The Might of the Supermarket!

There are plenty of people that think supermarkets are evil too but lets face it, most of us use them. If you're not familiar with UK supermarkets, they sell practically everything including books. The selection in my local store is excellent, a paperback chart, with prices lower than Amazon and a multi-buy option, that contains a wide range of genres. Plus there's crime, romance, non-fiction, new releases and young adult sections all year round with the occasional addition of a random selection. I have found some great books in there.

In general, you're not going to go to the supermarket to buy books, you'll be there to buy food and other essential items. That's the genius of it. I can see the books aisle from the entrance and it's so easy to go have a little peek. Thousands of unplanned book purchases are made this way a year. And guess what, they all have to be real, physical, paper books!

Yes, I get to my point. Amazon might be selling Kindles in the supermarkets but they can't sell the ebooks there. Tesco, in particular, has a huge buying power and if they want paper books, by George they will have paper books! I can't really imagine them supporting Amazon's publishing venture either and indie stores definitely won't, which leaves Amazon selling their paper books on Amazon only. I don't think that's a healthy marketing strategy, we need things in plain sight to want them and from the sounds of it, the only buzz is that of people opposing the whole thing.

“What about supporting your local independent book shop?” I hear you cry. I don't have one. There are two Waterstones branches a bus ride away, which will happily sell me a book for full RRP as well as the cost and time of getting to the store. The few times I've ventured in there recently, I've come out empty-handed due to lack of choice. I was more of a Borders girl but, like many, just didn't buy enough to keep it going.

I'm not opposed to Amazon as long as we have options. I like the fact that I can get things low cost and delivered free of charge. The Kindle is an amazing piece if technology and it's great to have the option of downloading a book immediately if I so need it. The big fear is that Amazon will price everyone out of the market, take control and then hike prices. I can't see it happening when I can so easily buy a book with my weekly shopping.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Top Ten Unread Books

Oh so many books out there and so little time to read them all! I couldn't tell you which unread books I've had the longest but these are 10 books I own that I really do want to read, honest. Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
Skarlet - Thomas Emson
Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote
Schindler's Ark - Thomas Keneally
Bloodsucking Fiends - Christopher Moore

Looking through my TBR has really reminded me how many great looking titles I've got lurking on the shelves. I really should try and stop acquiring new books! If you're really nosy you can browse my immense TBR on Goodreads.

Monday, 14 November 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

IMWAYR is hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey and is a little round-up of the week for bloggers that read.

After the previous week's great reads this one's been pretty poor. Just back from book group so it's a bit of a fly-by but will check in with you all tomorrow.

Books I've read:
Ashfall by Mike Mullin 2/5
Come Sunday by Isla Morley 2/5
Chocolate Wishes by Trisha Ashley 3/5

Currently reading:
Covenant by Dean Crawford

Upcoming reads:
Hidden by Mirian Halahmy and In Praise of Savagery by Warwick Cairns

I also blogged about:
Don't Lose Your Blog! | 11.11.11 | Sci-Fi: Not Just For Stormtroopers | Incoming!

I also signed up for some 2012 challenges but I'll do a separate post about them when I'm more awake.