Review 15: Dark Tracks by Philippa Gregory

Dark Tracks: Order of Darkness Volume IV by Philippa Gregory

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About the author

Philippa Gregory was born in 1954 in Nairobi, Republic of Kenya. When she was two years old her family moved back to England. She studied English literature at the University of Sussex, where she later switched to the history course. Gregory earned her doctorate in 18th century literature at the University of Edinburgh and has taught at the University of Durham, University of Teeside and the Open University and was made a Fellow of Kingston University in 1994. Gregory’s first work was published in 1987 and she has been writing ever since, one of her most famous works The Other Boleyn Girl has won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award and has been made into two separate films.

Blurb

Luca Vero is a member of the secret Order of Darkness, tasked by his master to uncover the truth behind strange happenings. Although Lady Isolde, her friend and Ishraq, Luca’s manservant Freize, and Brother Peter, Luca travels miles across medieval Europe – seeking out the signs of the end of days, judging the supernatural and testing the new science.

Trapped in a village possessed by dancing madness, the group fights to keep their own sanity. When Isolde dances away in red shoes and Ishraq takes dramatic revenge on their covert assassin, the young people discover that the greatest risk is in the men who have come to their rescue. These are the truly dangerous madmen of Europe who carry a dark hatred that will last for centuries.

Review

I waited for ages for this book to be released and just recently I finally got around to buying it. I have read all the previous books in the series and really enjoyed them, I loved them so much I bought the first two as a present for my niece to read. So as you can imagine I was quite excited to read this book. Sadly the book did not live up to my enthusiasm and I doubt I will be recommending it to my niece.

The story continues with the same five characters from the series, Luca, Brother Peter, Freize, Isolde, and Ishraq. Luca is a novice not yet a full monk who works for the Order of Darkness a secret order that is monitoring things for the signs of the end of days. Brother Peter is a full monk who is following Luca writing down everything that they see and writing the reports for the secret order. He is also the oldest member of the five and makes sure that Luca remains faithful to his training to one day be a monk. Freize is Luca’s manservant who is extremely loyal and unfailing in his service. Isolde is a noblewoman who is trying to fight for her lands and castle with her friend Ishraq who she grew up with.

Luca, Brother Peter and Freize have been sent off to follow and study the people affected by the dancing sickness or madness, people in groups have decided to go off and dance leaving everything they know behind them. As their road is the same as Isolde’s and Ishraq’s they carry on travelling together.

The dancing sickness or madness was a phenomenon that was recorded in medieval times and times after that and there have been many theories as to the cause, however it has never been confirmed as to what it is. I always enjoy Gregory’s books because of the historical references within them and I was intrigued by the dancing sickness when reading about it in the blurb, however the book did not reveal as much as I would like to have learnt about it and the final result the characters came up with regarding it was a huge disappointment, it was like Gregory just wanted the book to finish within a certain word count and so gave up.

The other issue she discussed in the book was the treatment of Jews in the medieval times and this I did find interesting and was horrified about what I learnt from it. The scene at the end of the book was also very interesting. This issue is basically why the book did not get just one star.

In this book I found the two females sadly lacking, in the previous books they had been so strong and not the typical weak female of the time. However, this time Isolde fell in love with a pair of shoes and Ishraq some earrings when they knew they were meant to be on their guard. They came across as very vain and uninteresting. Ishraq did show her fighting skills and that was good to read but Isolde just came across as a protected spoiled brat and the more I read regarding her the less I liked her.

Considering this is the fourth book in the series the characters are not growing and to be honest have grown stale. I want to see their characters develop and to see them grow intellectually and emotionally and to be honest they almost went backwards in this book. Brother Peter and Freize were the only two who made the book bearable.

Overall the book showed what we already know, nobility in medieval times were horrible, self centred and cared nothing for their people. The treatment of Jews was a surprise for me and the dancing sickness was interesting to read about. However I could read about the Jews’ history and the dancing sickness in a history book and probably find it a great deal more interesting. The characters were severely lacking and quite frankly dull. I doubt I will bother to read the next in the series which is a great shame as the previous three were excellent. My rating was a 2 stars out of 5.

Lady Book Dragon

Review 14: Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr

Mog’s Christmas by Judith Kerr

About the Author

Judith Kerr was born in 1923 in Berlin, she came to England with her family in 1933. Kerr is a British author and illustrator, who has written and illustrated many children’s books and some books for older children. Kerr was awarded an OBE in 2012 for services to children’s literature and Holocaust education.

Blurb

Strange things are happening at Mog’s house. So she runs up on the roof and there she stays… until she returns to the house with a bump!

Review

My first Christmas read this year and it was a great start. I love the Mog books even though I have not read them all, just the ones my nephews and niece own. Now some of you might be worried about a grown woman reading children’s books, but I think it is perfectly normal to read children’s books and it brings a bit of magic in to your life and Christmas is all about magic.

If you have not already met Mog, Mog is cat, a rather nervous cat who does not like change. Mog’s family are getting ready for Christmas but this is all very confusing to Mog and so Mog takes action.

This children’s book shows how confusing a time Christmas can be to animals, the house starts to change with decorations being put up and a tree going from being outside to inside. There are also strangers coming around to visit and all these new things can be overwhelming. The story is enchanting but at the same time educational to children so they understand that Christmas can also be scary to animals.

Being a cat owner I fully understand Mog’s feelings as my cats also find it difficult to deal with new experiences and people in the house. Thankfully it is all a happy ending in Mog’s Christmas story.

I really enjoyed this story and the beautiful illustrations and it brought back happy memories for me. I gave the story 4 out of 5 stars, it did not get 5 stars because I just think Kerr portrayed Mog as a little bit too dumb and cats are not that dumb.

Review 13: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos

About the author

Loos was an American screenwriter, playwright, and author born in 1889. She is best known for her novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She wrote scripts from 1912 till her death in 1981 and was the first scriptwriter on the payroll of Triangle Film Corporation. She wrote a great many of the Douglas Fairbanks films and did the stage adaptation of Collette’s Gigi.

Blurb

With these deceptively simple words Lorelei Lee, a not-so-dumb blonde with a single-minded devotion to orchids, diamonds and champagne, embarks on what Edith Wharton was to call, perhaps not entirely seriously, ‘the great American novel’. Written in diary form, Lorelei Lee’s life makes for an outrageous, witty read. Capturing the carefree attitude of the glamorous jazz age, the flighty Lorelei moves from suitor to suitor, from scandalous situation to frivolous engagement, ever in search of the elusive millionaire who could provide her own happy ending.

With the help of her wise-cracking friend and protector Dorothy, Lorelei learns to spot a gentleman ‘whom you can call up at any time and ask him to go shopping and he is delighted’ at a hundred paces, dances with the Prince of Wales, and travels to Paris to enjoy ‘the Eyeful Tower’. Sharp, hilarious and undeniably endearing, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes would be immortalised by the 1953 musical starring Marilyn Monroe, and Anita Loos herself was so impressed by the success of her creation that she ended up dyeing her hair …

Review

Gosh this book was annoying! I got this book a couple of years ago free from The Folio Society because I had spent so much money with them, however I do remember it was meant to be another book but they had sold out and so they sent me this one instead. 

I struggled with this book, I know the book is written in diary form and Loos included grammatical and spelling errors but it was these errors that drove me mad. I just found them over the top and I know they were there to add to the feel of a diary but it just upset me, I wanted to correct all the errors with a big red pen. 

The diary belongs to Lorelei who is an American society girl who is moving through life going from one suitor to the other getting as many presents as she can out of them and looking for the richest man she can find to eventually marry or sue in court. Lorelei has a friend Dorothy who helps her in this quest. Lorelei starts the diary to help her become educated as she keeps saying she is an educated girl and just wants to read books and see the all education she can.

The first thing I worked out was that Lorelei is really not very educated, she pretends to be and tells the men she meets she is but in fact she is severely lacking. She is educated in one department and that department is using men to get what she wants and she can work out a rich man and poor man just by looking at them. I did like the fact that all the books she was given to read she found some excuse not to read and when she went to museums she just complained about her aching feet. This made me laugh a little bit but then it turned to despair.

I had high hopes for this book and I think I had in mind of something like The Great Gatsby but sadly I did not enjoy it like I did The Great Gatsby. Lorelei was just too annoying for me, I know it is set in a different time but she just came across as too immature and money grabbing. She just used men for her own advantage and only thought of shopping and champagne. I started to feel really sorry for all the men she took shopping and then discarded. She’s lazy and sleeps in till silly times basically because she is hungover all the time. The more I think of her character the more she annoys me and to be honest I would not like a person of her character anywhere near me. 

I am sorry that my review is so against the general grain of all the other reviews out there and I know that this book is considered a great American classic but I found it very hard to digest. I did not believe the spelling and grammatical errors were necessary and certainly deterred me from the book. Also I could not believe that such an annoying character could exist but I have found her. Until now I thought it was Jane Austen’s Emma who was the most annoying heroine in the literary world, but no she has moved to second place as Lorelei has taken her crown. I think it is most likely that it is because I prefer a strong female lead who does not depend on men to get through life and Lorelei just does not fit into this category.

The other area I did not enjoy was the illustrations. I found they lacked finesse and I doubt I will be keen to read another book with illustrations by Ffolkes.

All in all a massive disappointment for me, thankfully it is not a long book and I got it for free from The Folio Society. Just 1 star out of 5 from me.

Lady Book Dragon.

Review 12: The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov (Translated by Michael Glenny)

About the author

Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev on 15th May 1891. He trained as a doctor but gave up practising medicine in 1920 to devote his life to writing. In 1925 he completed The Heart of a Dog, which remained unpublished in the Soviet Union until 1987. By 1930 Bulgakov had become so frustrated by the suppression of his work that he wrote to Stalin begging to be allowed to emigrate if he was not given the opportunity to make his living as a writer in the USSR. Stalin telephoned him personally and offered him a job at the Moscow Arts Theatre. In 1938, he completed The Master and Margarita. He sadly died in 1940. In 1973 The Master and Margarita was finally published in full.

Blurb

A rich, successful Moscow professor befriends a stray dog and attempts a scientific first by transplanting into it the testicles and pituitary gland of a recently deceased man. A distinctly worryingly human animal is now on the loose, and the professor’s hitherto respectable life becomes a nightmare. An absurd and superbly comic story, this novel can also be read as a fierce parable of the Russian Revolution.

Review

This book was on a table in the Waterstones in London and I must admit I was intrigued. I do find the piles of books on the tables at Waterstones very tempting and I often end up buying books I usually would not go for. Having read a few books with cats on the cover recently I thought it was about time I read a book with a dog on the front. Sadly I found this book rather a disappointment. 

Firstly, I have not read The Master and Margarita but it is on my to read pile and even though this book has been a disappointing read for me, I will give The Master and Margarita a chance and keep it on my to read pile. I do not regret reading this book, as it was interesting and I did enjoy small parts of it. 

The story begins with the meeting of the stray dog and the dog’s thoughts. The poor dog has been badly wounded and is contemplating its end and the reader gets to see the world of Russia through its eyes. Then Professor Philip Philipovich comes on to the scene and befriends the wounded dog. This Professor takes the stray into his home, treats his wounds and appears to be a dream come true for the dog. The dog’s world has changed for the better and it is glorious, until it all changes and the Professor’s true intentions become clear.

The Professor specialises in rejuvenating people’s sexual organs by replacing them with animal organs. This becomes clear when he examines a lady and says he will replace her ovaries with the ovaries of a monkey. This to be honest disturbed me when I read it and I was dubious whether to continue, as things like that quite often put me off, but by this point I had fallen in love with the little dog and wanted to know what would happen to him next.

The graphic detail of the surgery really put me off and I must admit I had to skim some of the details as I could not handle it, especially just before sleep. It was extremely realistic and this is obviously where Bulgakov’s medical background comes in handy when writing about the surgery. Again I only kept going because I desperately wanted to know what would happen next to the dog.

The descriptions of the way Soviet Russia was becoming was very interesting and I can see how worrying it would have been for the people living in Russia at the time it was all happening. I can also see why the book was confiscated from Bulgakov, because the last thing the Soviet Union would have wanted was this bleak view of Russia being broadcast to the world. I think the stray dog’s point of view whilst in the doorway waiting for death was the best description of Russia and really summed up what Bulgakov was trying to get across. 

However as the story went on, I just think it went somewhat off the rails and a bit too over the top for me. Also Philip started to drive me slightly crazy with his constantly quoting from the theatre for example “To the banks of the sacred nile…” it was like the man was demented and just made no sense. 

The dog as a normal dog was the best part of this book and I just could not understand why a man would want to perform the experiment that he did to the dog. Maybe it is because I have no real interest in science but it just did not make sense. Frankenstein made sense to me because the good doctor was trying to find a cure for death but putting the testicles and pituitary gland of a human into a dog made no sense at all to me. 

As a Russian book I was surprised at how short it was, my general experience of Russian literature is of huge tomes, some of which are my favourite books. Shortness for this book was one of its advantages though.

I do not think my review of this book will be popular as I tend to be against the general consensus but my views are my own and everyone has their own opinions, which is good as we would be a pretty boring race if we all felt and thought the same. My overall rating of the book is 2 stars out of 5, the reason it was not 1 star was because I liked the beginning a great deal and the dog before it all went wrong. 

A quick read to while away an afternoon break like I used it for.

Lady Book Dragon 


Review 11: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

About the Author

Neil Gaiman is an English author who writes comics, books, graphic novels, short stories, film and theatre and has won many awards for his work. He was a great reader from an early age and states that JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a major influence to him and he read it a great deal as a child. Gaiman started his career as a journalist and his first book was a Duran Duran biography. Gaiman now lives in the United States.

Blurb

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a perfectly normal boy. Apart from the fact that he lives in a graveyard and is being raised and educated by the ghosts, and his guardian belongs to neither the world of the living nor the dead.

There are dangers and adventures for Bod in the graveyard: the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer; a gravestone entrance to a desert that leads to the city of should; friendship with a witch; and so much more.

But it is in the land of the living that the real dangers lurk, for it is there that the man Jack lives and he has already killed Bod’s family.

Review

I was so excited to read this book after reading the short story in Coraline and Other Stories which is the fourth chapter in this book. So on my next bookshop visit I managed to buy a copy of the book. Sadly though I was rather disappointed with the book as a whole.

The book is about the life of Nobody Owens as a child and teenager and the struggles he goes through. Nobody or Bod for short escaped the same fate that his family went through and was protected by the ghosts of the Graveyard he wandered into and his guardian, Silas who is neither in the land of the living or the dead. 

Bod is a typical boy growing up, he is full of wonder and the drive to learn however he lacks the fear and trepidation that most people feel because he has seen death is not all that bad. His best friends are ghosts, death holds no fear for him. He has also sampled the powers that the dead have and that the living do not and knows that they are very advantageous. 

The first chapter shows how Bod came to the graveyard and I must admit I almost shed a tear when Mrs Owens finds him. The chapter was full of emotion and you can not help but desperately root for Bod, but also wonder how the ghosts of the graveyard will look after the child. 

The subsequent chapters show snippets into Bod’s life at about yearly intervals. These chapters I must admit frustrated me as it left me wanting more and the things that were in the chapters were quite often never touched on again or even mentioned. I also wanted to know more about Silas and Miss Lupescu but that was not to be and the reader is left guessing. The character Jack and his kind are only lightly touched upon and this was another disappointment, all the time I wanted to know more details. My favourite chapter still remains The Witch’s Headstone.

The concept of Sleer was brilliant, I really liked the idea of a creature who is unbelievably ancient that nobody even remembers its reason for existence or even that it does exist. Sleer still remembers its purpose though but at the same time is desperate for somebody to become its master again. In a way it is like Bod, Bod wants answers and adventures and Sleer just wants a master a reason for it to still keep protecting.

There were moments in the story that really pulled on my heart strings and almost brought tears to my eyes and I absolutely loved the character of Bod and Mr and Mrs Owens. However I also found myself losing interest in places and that is one of the main reasons for the lower rating. I think reading the fourth chapter first as a short story was a mistake because the rest of the book just did not live up to my expectations.

The edition of the book I read had some beautiful illustrations in by Dave McKean which really added to the story and worked brilliantly in setting the dark mysterious scene of the graveyard. Here is one of my favourites.

A good read for adults and children and I think it would make an excellent film one day. 

Just 3 stars out of 5 from me.

Lady Book Dragon

Review 10: Dead Men by Richard Pierce

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Dead Men by Richard Pierce

About the author

Richard Pierce is an English author who was born in Doncaster and educated in Germany and St John’s College, Cambridge. He now lives in Suffolk with his wife and four children. As well as writing he also paints, administers to two charities and writes poetry.

Blurb

Birdie Bowers is a woman with a dead man’s name. Her parents had been fascinated by by Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers, one of Captain Scott’s companions on his ill-fated polar expedition. A hundred years after the death of Bowers and Scott, she sets out to discover what really happened to them…

The discovery of Captain Scott’s body in the Antarctic in November 1912 started a global obsession with him as a man and an explorer. But one mystery remains – why did he and his companions spend their last ten days in a tent only 11 miles from the safety of a depot that promised food and shelter?

Dead Men tells the story of the two paths. One is a tragic journey of exploration on the world’s coldest continent, the other charts a present-day relationship and the redemptive power of love.

Review

I was so delighted to receive this book off Richard Pierce to read and review. My first book received from an author to review, as you can imagine I was very excited and it went straight to the top of my to read pile.

I finished this book a few days ago and it has been on my mind ever since, it really has stayed with me. It’s made me think a lot about Scott and the Antarctic expedition and the things done to push one’s self beyond the normal capabilities of the human body. I really can not believe that this is Pierce’s first novel as it is just brilliant. I can really tell that Pierce did a great deal of research for this book and spent a lot of time to perfect the story and intertwine the past and the present together.

The book contains two tales, the tale of Scott and his expedition to the Antarctic and the tale of Birdie and Adam. Birdie who is named after Henry Bowers is obsessed with the Scott expedition and finding out why Scott lost his life and did not make it to the safety of the food depot which was only 11 miles away. This obsession she got from her dad and losing him has made her even more determined to get the answers she seeks. Adam is the other main character who meets Birdie unexpectedly on the train and whose life is changed forever from that day. Birdie and Adam are very different people, Birdie is an artist who has a very artistic temperament and can be difficult to get on with. Adam works with computers and everything is organised and planned in his life, he never does anything out of the ordinary and keeps himself to himself. 

The story shows how Birdie and Adam become friends and help change each other for the better, whilst trying to solve the Scott mystery. 

I really enjoyed how all the way through the book there are flashes back to the past, these sections really moved me and at times almost brought me to tears. Quite often after reading these sections I also just sat and thought about what Scott and his people must have gone through, how alone they must have felt out there on the ice. 

This book is a wonderful read and a beautiful love story and I got to learn some history as well. It really got me interested in the Scott expedition and I fully intend on doing some more reading about Scott and Amundsen. At just under 300 pages this book packs a lot of punch and you get a great deal of content in such a small book. I highly recommend this book to everyone, especially if you are a fan of books with history, love and the power of nature.

A massive 5 out of 5 stars from me.

Lady Book Dragon

Review 9: Clean Sweep Ignatius by Jeffrey Archer

Clean Sweep Ignatius 

About the author

Jeffrey Archer was born in England in 1940, he is a former politician and author. Archer was a member of parliament from 1969-1974 but did not seek re-election due to a financial scandal that almost bankrupt him. Facing bankruptcy Archer began to write and in so doing revived his fortunes. Archer’s political career has been filled with scandal and in 2001 he was sent to jail for perjury and perverting the course of justice, in 2003 he was released. All his life experiences influence his writing and make for interesting reading.

Blurb

Nigeria’s newly appointed Minister of Finance is determined to make his country sit up straight with his rigorous overhaul of the system, soon earning him the nickname ‘Clean Sweep Ignatius’. But, somehow, large sums of money are still falling through invisible cracks. At his wits end, General Otobi grants Ignatius with the authority to take whatever means he deems necessary to track down the errant funds . . . 

Review

Another breakfast short story review! I do like these free short stories on Kindle. This short story was shorter than I expected and took me only about ten minutes to read if that, I had not even finished my bowl of cereal. I was rather disappointed that most of the book was a sample for his latest book. 

However short this story is I did enjoy it, it really showed Archer’s talent for getting the point across in as few words as possible. It was a clever story and I did not see the ending at all. 

Ignatius is trying to rid the system of crooks and frauds and does everything in his power to accomplish this. General Otobi is desperate to make his government run legally and gives Ignatius all the power he can to rid the system of all the crooks. As Ignatius becomes more successful in his mission he becomes popular with the general public and gets a reputation hence the nickname ‘Clean Sweep Ignatius’.

The story was well delivered and easy to read however I can not say more about it without giving away spoilers. All I can say is if you have a few minutes spare give it a read. A short review for a short story.

I gave the story 3 out of 5 stars due to it just being too short for my liking and in my opinion not his best short story.

Lady Book Dragon