Features

Top 10 London Bookshops You Must Stumble Upon

Composing a comprehensive list of anything in a city as winding and varied as London is tough, let alone showcasing London’s best loved Bookshops. To properly index and explore the various nooks and hollows that make up the city’s streets is a task even the most disciplined of London cabbies’ limbic brains struggle with. Add to this a vagabond newcomer, with knowledge of the underground, and street layouts, that is at best haphazard, and the result is a Conan Doyle like conundrum. So rather than hopelessly striving toward collecting a knowledge of London’s literary haunts worthy of an encyclopaedia Britannica entry, I’ve chosen to go another route. Venturing down nostalgia filled back streets and memory lined alleyways, I’ve composed my own ambling Taxi ride in an attempt to create a narrative of the varied sights, sounds and scents of London and it’s bustling boroughs, as seen through the windows of its book stores. Along the way we’ll hopefully throw light on a few unlikely gems, as well as adding punctuation to some of London’s better-known sites of fact and fiction. Included amongst them, is the first bookstore I ever stumbled into in London; young, bright eyed, bushy tailed and more than a bit bamboozled by Big Ben’s hometown.  As we progress en route hopefully we’ll find a few sites of interest for more than just the tourists amongst us. Books for Cooks Just a pinch from the vivid cosmopolitan colour and scents of Portobello road, Books for Cooks is also positioned right across the road from another of London’s literary landmarks. The probably-much-better-known Notting Hill Bookstore. Made famous for providing the inspiration for the store featured in the 1999 movie named after the area. Remaining faithful to my own taste buds (you have to admit Hugh Grant is a little like the cinematic equivalent of marmite) I’ve chosen to include Books for Cooks on our tour instead. The small store is a perfect slice of one of London’s most famous west end locations. A haven for pro-chefs and would-be cooks such as myself a like. The store's central tables are set with an abundance of the most recent big name releases. While the shelves that line the walls are lovingly stocked with a variety of geographically arranged delights, spanning everything your pallet could hope for. If you think it’s just the exotic recipes and place names making you feel suddenly hungry, it may also have something to do with the scents drifting from the in-store café tucked at the back of the shop. 4 Blenheim Crescent, London W11 1NN  020-7221 1992 Ladbroke Grove or Nottinghill Gate Underground Forbidden Planet Buried in the catacombs of one of London’s well known retailers of all things generally geek, is an extensive book section. The tunnel-like passages that comprise the large basement of the shop go a long way toward mapping out the fringes of dark fantasy, other worldly fiction and illustration. A staggering collection of everything from graphic novels, comic books series, extensive fiction collections of all sorts, specialist film and design books and all the imaginable accompaniments you might want to go with them. A veritable modern day wizard’s cave, if you’ll excuse the kitsch metaphor. www.forbiddenplanet.com 179 Shaftesbury Avenue London WC2H 8JR 0207 420 3666 Tottenham Court Road Underground Foyles Foyles has had as oddly an eccentric past as any Londoner. Beginning as a second hand retailer, established by two brothers after failed exams saw them gleefully offloading their newly useless textbooks. It was passed down the family line through anachronism and eccentricity. Through its unique history, by accident or by design, Foyles has become a kind of beacon for independent booksellers in the face of rapidly mutating markets and ever more fickle custom. Now a much more modernised affair, reminiscence of most high street book-stores  it still maintains a pleasant sense of identity; with some more obscure selections and staff choices displayed throughout the store. In a stylish segue connected to the food and cooking section is Ray’s Jazz Café, a reported favourite old haunt for the late BBC radio DJ John Peel. The top floor similarly boasts a comprehensive music section adjoined by Ray’s Jazz and Classical Music Store. www.foyles.co.uk Charing Cross 113-119 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0EB Tottenham Court Road Underground Hatchards It would seem like teetering terribly close to the brink of heresy not to include London’s oldest established purveyor of literature and bookish pleasures on our tour. Situated just a short walk from the spiralling centre of Piccadilly Circus, Hatchards opened its doors in 1797. Having been appointed several Royal Warrants over the years since, it also collected a faithful following, seeing everybody from Byron, Kipling and Wilde come and go through its doors. Most recent notables include Stephen Fry, J.K Rowling, Michael Palin, and Margaret Thatcher. From its opening hall and central staircase, Hatchards is the equivalent of a gentle walk through the park. Passing down lush carpeted paths lined with colourful, hardback edition classics and signed copies of many modern UK authors. This timeless store is a classic an example of bespoke British booksellers as you dare hope for. www.hatchards.co.uk 187 Piccadilly, London, W1J 9LE Picadilly Circus Underground Koenig Books Charing Cross road is a stretch of London that is nothing short of spoilt for choice when it comes to bookshops. Home to a plentiful stock of stores worthy of note, further toward Trafalgar Square the undeniably quaint Cecil court is also worth a mention. Amongst all this, Koenig Books is a uniquely sharp edged haven for anybody seeking out inspiring art or design work. A store that is nearly as subtlety stylish as many of the books that line its shelves, all displayed with covers facing full front. It presents an immediate form of visual entrapment for any unsuspecting passer-by. Housing a selection that is likely to include anything you might be hoping to find, or at the very least something else that will fire your creative streak. Visit this uniquely sharp edged haven to seek out inspiring art or design work. 80 Charing Cross Rd Leicester Square London WC2H 0BF 020 7240 8190 Leicester Square Underground. Mega City Comics Stuffed amidst the brick walls and canvas over-hangs of one of Camden’s many famous (or infamous if you prefer) markets on Inverness Street. Mega City Comics is a well-stocked addition to the colourful anarchy of Camden’s Locks. The walls are stocked with the latest comic series editions and current releases. Backing this up is an excellent back catalogue of most of your favourite Comic book underpants-worn-on-the-outside style adventures. There’s also a small well chosen range of merchandise and other comic connected trinkets to keep you browsing between the pages. 18 Inverness Street, London NW1 7HJ  020-7485 9320. Camden Town Underground Oxfam The flagship Oxfam branch situated on Bloomsbury Street is the first bookstore I ever stumbled across in London, and to that end, is included as much for nostalgia’s sake as anything. However, it does serve as a pointed side note on what an excellent resource a good second hand bookstore can be. Its browsers include students looking for bargain priced literature and assiduous collectors perusing for first editions. www.oxfambloomsburybooks.wordpress.com 12 Bloomsbury Street London WC1B 3QA Tel. 0207 637 4610 Ripping Yarns ...the kind of small store that has an Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole feel and which you can happily lose yourself in for hours. Opened more than 29 years ago, with a launch by none other than the Pythons who inspired the stores name; Michael Palin and Terry Jones. I happened across this small piece of wonderland some years ago on one of my northern rambles of London. Ripping Yarns is the kind of small store where time disappears as it has you leafing through long lost volumes  and descending past  stunning ancient editions. Pages of vintage music (a selection of NME back editions), travel volumes and any other form of escapism you might dream up all happily co-exist on the bulging bookshelves. Throughout its well worn decades the store starting out specialising in Children’s literature and has now expanded to include a wider repertoire of Fantastical poetry, history and a mix of really anything else you might care to ask for. Hidden treasures don the walls in stunning pictorial covers, and beautiful hardback editions waiting to be discovered. Amongst the flourishing canvas of Lewis Carroll inspired art and precisely chosen editions that make up the front window, there still sits a quote from intrepid python Palin declaring the store, perched on Highgate hill, as 'one of London’s true treasures'. And frankly I’d have to agree. www.rippingyarns.co.uk 020 8341 6111 355 Archway Road, Highgate London, N6 4EJ Highgate Underground TreadWell's England’s history has always been dotted with tales of mystery, magic and the occult, so as you would expect its capital is no exception. Further north along Tottenham court road, Treadwell's bookstore is an excellent documentation of much of this magical mischief. Its long incense scented shelves conjure a mix of occult topics, herbal indexes, poetry, philosophy and religion from each corner of the world,. Amongst that already heady brew is also added a mix of incense, herbal oils, replica occult objects and other talisman. J.K Rowling’s Diagon alley may have been the magic of fiction, but there’s witchcraft, wizardry and certainly a little magic hidden at the back of Treadwell’s. www.treadwells-london.com 33 Store Street, London, WC1E 7BS Russell Square or Goodge Street Underground Waterstones “Europe’s biggest and most exciting bookshop…five floors of beautiful, original, intelligent writing for you to explore”. I’ll agree with anyone reading this, who inevitably feels including any kind of chain store on the list seems only a short flick from cheating. However as a fan of the big ‘W’ in general, if you’re looking for practicality, and generally a well-rounded, helpful staffed book shop - really there’s little space for argument.  There are also a number of reasons why the Waterstones London stores qualify for a bookmark on the tourist trail. The Piccadilly branch (Piccadilly Underground) is in the stores own words: “Europe’s biggest and most exciting bookshop…five floors of beautiful, original, intelligent writing for you to explore”. If the five-floored touristic heights of Piccadilly sound a bit much for you, you might prefer an amble around their Gower street branch (Goodge Street or Euston Square Underground), note worthy for having been used in the filming of Dylan Moran and Graham Linehan’s hit TV series Black Books. www.waterstones.com And thus we stop the meter and complete our journey. Your destination but the turn of a page away. Hopefully you’ll have enjoyed our A-Z tour and found some fresh insight into London's book lined alleyways. Undoubtedly there are many more chapters and tales to be told, many more quiet moments in softly leather bound corners to be sought out. Without doubt there are plenty more inky treasures to turn up that are not included on this list. But as a small suggestion for some essential reading, perhaps it will have given you some helpful side-notes.  As for finding all the rest - happy browsing - do leave the rest of us a note when you get there, or at least send a... Read more →
Best Books

Best Books of 2012

What?  The world hasn’t ended?  Well, for Author Attic’s sake, and the sake of our readers, this is an especially serendipitous non-Apocalypse.  All winter the gears have been turning, letters have been flying, and pens have been chewed as we behind the scenes have attempted to compile and present for you the Best Books of 2012.  The list will definitely feature some favourites, some surprises, and some complete unknowns – 2012 was an absolute firecracker of a year for literary releases.  Featuring the 31 best, most anticipated, and most acclaimed publications of the year, we’ve finally (after much debating, arguing and general bickering) hammered out the final order of those vying for the prestigious position of Best Book of 2012.  Thus, without further ado…   From the author of the heartbreaking masterpiece Atonement comes another suspense-filled emotional thriller, Sweet Tooth.  In the midst of the Cold war, the world of espionage is as alive and active as it as ever been; MI5 is initiating a cultural propaganda operation called “Sweet Tooth”, in an attempt to subvert the minds of the people by secretly supporting a number of ‘targeted’ writers.  The protagonist, the characteristically beautiful and clever Serena Frome has been recruited by MI5 and assigned to infiltrate the literary circle of one potential candidate for the program: author Tom Haley.  What follows is a mixture of romance and suspense, as Serena becomes compromised emotionally while still attempting to maintain the objectivity of her mission.  McEwan weaves a tale of classic romance that will appeal to lovers of the traditional genre, but perhaps not to those whose particular tastes tend towards more modern fiction. A federal judge has been murdered.  In classic John Grisham style, it is of course no random convenience store robbery-type murder; in the world of political intrigue, it is safe to say that nothing is ever what it seems… except this novel, of course, which is exactly what it seems.  That’s not to say it isn’t a quality release – it absolutely is – but it contains exactly what the package describes.  John Grisham displays his technical ability to manipulate plots and characters, and he must be admired for the ability to churn out solid releases year after year in the same genre without repeating himself.  In any given Grisham novel, the main protagonist is either completely lovable or repugnant – and this case is no different; and personally I found Malcolm Bannister to fit in the former category, as much as a too-clever convict can.  Fans of John Grisham will undoubtedly love this book, and those who dislike this genre of legal fiction will likely not have their minds changed by The Racketeer. The plot is no more or less complex than the first book, and those who found Divergent to their taste will undoubtedly be just as satisfied with Insurgent. Veronica Roth is back with the much-anticipated sequel in her Divergent series.  A dystopian future fiction, Insurgent again sees young heroine Tris Prior kicking ass and taking names in her usual style.  We last left her with the Five factions in utter disarray after the purging of the Erudite, and of course some particularly strong and ambitious people are looking to establish order in the chaos – their own order.  Featuring more grounded romance than the first novel, it doesn’t take the limelight as did in Divergent.  The well-defined societal structures that framed the last book are no longer present, and Roth does well to avoid the traditional ‘second book-syndrome’ after such a successful debut.  She is able to keep her characters, especially Tris, consistent without being predictable, and to keep their relative development seem a natural progression from the first book.  The plot is no more or less complex than the first book, as well, and those who found Divergent to their taste will undoubtedly be just as satisfied with Insurgent. Another future sci-fi creation, Marissa Meyer provides 2012 with something sorely needed: cyborgs.  Seriously – cyborgs!  Meyer engages in some traditional future world building, complemented by some excellent character scripting.  It’s difficult to prescribe just how beings such as androids and cyborgs would act in any given situation (mostly because AI is still so conceptual), but the author in this case does a satisfying, if not always agreeable, job of mapping out character roles, and providing believable and enjoyable character interactions between the non-humans (or non-fully humans).  The downside?  I’m not fully sold on the Cinderella interpretation.  I think Meyer probably conceived of this story with a Cinderella backdrop in mind, so it’s completely context-less to say the characters deserved their own original storyline, but I’ll say it nonetheless.  Either way, this will not be a book anyone regrets reading, and there is a fair amount of enjoyment to be had along the way. Walker is a talented storyteller, whose talent for atmospheric composition and creation of event structures is clear for all to see. Debut author Karen Thompson Walker comes now with a solid fiction in The Age of Miracles, a coming of age story concerning life’s struggles, and the need to overcome them.  The author brings together wildly fantastic situations such as the slowing of the Earth’s rotation in a bizarre combination with similarly destructive events such as dissolving marriages, the death of loved ones, and puppy love.  The result is a strange complement of conflicts and struggles, leaving the reader both completely removed from our conventional reality, but strangely reminiscent of the struggles many of us face day-to-day.  Walker is a talented storyteller, whose talent for atmospheric composition and creation of event structures is clear for all to see. Another dark addition to the ever-growing Sookie Stackhouse novel collection, if you are a huge fan of HBO’s True Blood series and haven't turned to the books yet, then you must! In Deadlocked, Sookie deals with an investigation concerning a young girl at a vampire party who is drained and murdered – the worst thing is, Eric was the last to be seen feeding on her. The lovely, yet very sinister Eric swears he didn't do it but the police are not convinced, so Sookie must take the murder investigation into her own hands.  For those fans of the series, Deadlocked delivers the same style of plot structure and writing that you will have come to expect; there is nothing new or unexpected. If you enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse series, there is no reason not to pick this one up. I Heart London is the 5th edition to the I Heart book series, conveniently released just in time for the British Jubilee and the London Olympics. This time round we join soon-to-be-deported Angela Clark as she is forced back to her hometown of London.  Returning to London for the first time since she escaped to New York was always going to be a tricky adventure; waving goodbye to, Angela returns home to unfinished business with her cheating ex-fiancé, her best friend who has just had a new baby and her mother who still talks to her like she’s fifteen. With another hellish wedding on the cards, can the arrival of her charming boyfriend Alex and sassy eccentric best friend Jenny save her from another humiliation? Kelk writes in an accessible and light-hearted style, making Angela's adventure easy to read, and tantalizingly addictive. Who would have guessed that four minutes could change everything? This book will divide opinion, no doubt about it.  Unfortunately (for some), the author’s extreme talent at narratives and manipulating character interactions is marred only by her decision to apply it in a predictable manner.  Love at first sight and fairly predictable subsequent events may serve to turn some fiction lovers off by the description alone, but that would be an injustice.  Smith does create stimulating and heart-warming interactions between the two mains, Hadley and Oliver, while achieving a bittersweet love story that, while predictable, still achieves the goals of ALL love stories – to make the reader smile.  The Statistical Probability of Love At First Sight is not going to blow any minds or win any prizes for originality, but it is a very charming and enjoyable read, and more than deserving a place on this list. Forget slow-built plots and gripping event structures: some authors simply have talent for providing pure, witty entertainment with sharp and clever writing.  Jennifer Lawson, blogger queen and Internet author, has produced an entertaining semi-true autobiography with the perfect balance of truth and embellishment.  The author composes her thoughts and describes her actions in such a way that endears herself to the reader, both with funny anecdotes about her taxidermist father and brutally honest descriptions of her battle with depression.  A genuinely heartfelt read that contrasts the brittle fragility of life with the unbending fortitude of a powerful spirit.  Very funny and tantalizingly honest, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir is a highly recommended easy read. In a brilliant combination of fiction and criticism, author Geoff Dyer tries to describe and explain his own connection to one of the greatest films of all time: Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.  Beginning with a clever interpretation of this work of horror, Dyer then moves into analyses and explorations of life and belief, and how we interact with each of these concepts individually.  A metaphor for self-discovery, Zona is an introscopic journey into desires, motivations, and personal philosophies.  The author writes in a very intelligent, nuanced style, with sharp observations and a convincing perspective.  Not for everyone, this is a thinker’s book, definitely one for those with a concrete pretentious side. A different kind of book, in Quiet, author Susan Cain attempts to provide perspective on the nature of introversion and extraversion in an honest attempt to gain acceptance for those who prefer their own company.  It is unbelievable that in society introversion is often viewed as an ‘affliction’ or a ‘condition’ that one ought to remedy.  In this explanatory and subjectively argued book, Cain attempts to justify the value in accepting those whose best contributions are those made by those behind the scenes, out of the spotlight, and otherwise independently minded.  She addresses questions of dominance, the ‘alpha’ mentality behind modern-day success, and the definitions of mental health and balance.  Very unique as compared to other books on this list, this is an intriguing read with a solid mix of passionate writing and well-argued expertise. For those who have read Bill Clegg’s previous work (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man), his latest release Ninety Days is a direct and natural continuation of this tale of hardship and addiction.  A story of darkness and temptation, of desire and repulsion, and of hopelessness and determination, it tracks one man’s struggle to regain control over his life in the face of never-ending craving.  Bill Clegg attempts to achieve (or survive) ninety days of sobriety in order to recover from his past addictions.  This story is as painful and heart-rending as it is honest, as the author covers the darkest depths of his dependence in a compelling and all too realistic depiction of his struggles.   A fun new take on a fairytale adventure by one of the stars of hit American TV show Glee, The Land of Stories is the debut novel by multifaceted Chris Colfer. Targeted for young readers, the story follows two twin brothers, Alex and Connor, whose grandmother gifts them with a mysterious and powerful book, unexpectedly bringing them face-to-face with classic fairy tale characters. However, these fairy tale characters are incredibly different from the ones they have read about; Alex and Connor rather quickly find out that just because they know all the stories, doesn't mean they have all the answers. Colfer cleverly weaves together both the original fairy tales by the brothers Grimm and the later adaptations by Hans Christian Anderson to deliver a deliciously modern take on the fantasy genre. With inspired insights such as a pregnant Queen Cinderella and Goldilocks as an outlaw, The Land of Stories is a good-natured and sometimes surprising children's book that transcends its target audience. Although not strictly published in 2012, The Hunger Games cheekily finds its way on to this list following a highly successful cinematic remake.  The nation of Panem is ruled from the wealthy Capitol, which has twelve surrounding, and subjugated, poor and starving districts. As punishment for a past rebellion by the now destroyed District 13, the annual Hunger Games take place: each district must submit all of its boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 for selection for a mandatory tournament. This involves a lottery process in which one boy and one girl are selected at random to compete to the death.  The world Collins has created is one of the strong points of this series; Panem has the perfect combination of fantasy world building and heavy, realistic satire. Not that The Hunger Games should need much recommending by this point, this is one hell of an opening to an amazing trilogy. Perspective: when it’s a miracle that you’re alive, but the machine keeping you alive is what holds you back.  Hazel Grace should be dead – at least, that’s how lung cancer usually works; as it is, at 16-years-old, Hazel has finished high school and currently spends her days reading whilst attached to the oxygen tank that is keeping the cancer at bay.  She doesn't believe in embracing social interactions; the miracle of the life that she has been granted feels shallow and paper-thin, as she dangles by a thread from her lifeline.  However, one day she meets Augustus Waters at her support group; suddenly, Hazel is no longer sure what defines her.  The Fault In Our Stars is an honest, heartfelt story; it conveys the 'realness" of life and death, and the people caught somewhere in between.  Hazel Grace is an attractively written character, and there is a very real sensation behind her hilarious take on such a tragic subject.  Author Green really does capture young love and the almost incomprehensible feelings of a teenage girl who knows that one day very soon she may have to leave her loved ones behind. Whodunit! Crime fiction author Mark Billingham is back again, this time departing from his bread-and-butter Tom Thorne series and providing for us a standard, but excellently written crime thriller in Rush of Blood.  The thing about meeting couples on vacation, is that 1 in 3 are always either swingers or murderers.  In this case, it’s the latter; three couples meet on vacation and seem to hit it off brilliantly, until the teenage girl gets murdered with no one able to identify the killer.  What’s a little death in the face of real friendship, right?  The couples keep in touch upon returning home, and by the time the second girl disappears, everyone knows something is up.  Grisham-esque in its conception, Rush of Blood is a well-structured thriller that goes deeper than a simple ‘find the killer’ novel.  Billingham is adept at event structuring, and may surprise more readers with his twist ending than you might assume.  An excellent page-turner, and highly recommended for all crime drama fans! While originally published in 2005 as These Foolish Things, due to the success of the cinematic remake, Random House decided to republish this title again in 2012 under the film title.  This is enough of a reason to include The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel on this list, in my opinion, primarily because it’s a delightful read.  A motley crew of British retirees is enticed by advertisements of a newly restored palatial hotel in India.  They leave England with the promise of leisure, relaxation, and a retiring vacation, but arrival at the hotel shows them something very different: the palace is hardly restored and the innkeeper seems completely out of his depth!  Soon, however, they succumb to the sights and sounds this new country has to offer, and with the help of the eccentric staff, they begin a raw journey of self-discovery.  Moggach brilliantly develops sincere and engaging characters through witty observations and shows that even in the afternoon of life, true love can still be round the corner. A story focused on the realities of life, Green conjures up a heartbreaking novel about values, family, and the trials of acceptance. Jane Green is a stand-out author in Chick Lit, and her latest novel, The Patchwork Marriage is another true-to-style publication in that genre.  Newly-weds Andi and Ethan gain custody of Ethan’s two children from a previous marriage.  Andi has always wanted the perfect fairytale, a husband and a ready-made family, but all is not what it seems, and becoming a stepmother is a lot harder than she ever could have imagined.  Tensions rise until Andi, reaching her breaking point, decides to pack up her things and leave for good… until Emily drops a bombshell that puts all past conflicts into perspective.  A story focused on the realities of life, Green conjures up a heartbreaking novel about values, family, and the trials of acceptance. The author skilfully juggles the narratives of Andi, Ethan, and Emily to deliver a wonderful kaleidoscopic view of family life in all its raw detail. Published at the end of last year, The Best of Me is a nostalgic love story from renowned screenwriter and author Nicholas Sparks.  For those of you familiar with his other works (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember), the author’s method of character portrayal and plot structuring will be extremely familiar, and no less heart-rending.  The book follows the story of two school sweethearts, Dawson and Amanda, as they re-unite years after their young relationship to find (naturally) that love is slightly more persistent than either of them knew.  In a tale of passion, loss, and discovery, Sparks ticks all the boxes one would expect him to, without really delivering something brand-new or unexpected.  However, in playing to his strengths, the author displays excellent narrative skill, especially in his ability to create vivid character interactions.  Yes, it’s a love story, and the reader will have a fairly good idea about how things are going to develop, at least in general, but Sparks still manages to contrive a certain amount of attachment between the reader and the characters, and that is the driving force behind this author’s popularity. If the last entry could be described as fiction ‘written for the heart’, then No One is Here Except All of Us would definitely qualify as fiction ‘written for the mind’.  Instead of solely playing on the raw and brutal emotions associated with the horror of WWII and the crimes that took place, Ausubel attempts to intellectualize the Jewish response to the external, violent pressure they were subjected to in the late 1930s – 1940s.  The novel focuses on a remote Jewish village in Romania that is suddenly caught up in the genocidal storm of anti-Semitism.  One day the villagers hear the noise of air planes  as they fly over and drop bombs on the other side of their town. Within a few short hours a woman from the bombed village arrives in a river of debris and explains that soldiers have invaded her home.  In reaction to this, the villagers decide that today will be the day that they start anew; they completely erase the idea of history from their minds and begin today as if it were the first day of Genesis.  While it may sound pretentious, Ramona Ausubel has constructed a very detailed and poignant allegory for isolationism and tribal mentality, wrapped up in the rather blunt packaging of a Holocaust-based fiction. It’s Nick and Amy Dunne's anniversary, and they are preparing to celebrate five years of married life when suddenly Amy goes missing from their Mississippi house. Nick begins to torture himself with images of his wife's body, and his odd behaviour has even the police questioning his involvement in Amy's disappearance. Amy's parents, the media and the police all add pressure to Nick's life, and he reacts by weaving an incredibly tangled web of deceit.  It is not long before all of the couples in North Carthage begin to question how well they know their loved ones.  Gillian Flynn delivers a first-rate psychological thriller, both fast-paced and darkly humorous, as the author captures the dark and twisted mind of a damaged person. Gone Girl is addictive to an almost unhealthy point and is one book you will not be able to put down. This is Kate Morton's fourth novel and it is completely and utterly as refreshing as the first. The novel pans from the 1930's - 1960's, right to the present day and depicts Laurel's quest to find out about her frail mothers mysterious past. It has a fantastic opening chapter which sets the scene of a 1960's summers day on a picturesque farm in the English countryside. Sixteen year old Laurel, an aspiring actress, is dreaming of what her future has in store for her when she witnesses a tragic crime which changes everything. The novel flutters back in time to 1930's wartime London and introduces Jimmy, Dorothy and Vivien, 3 strangers who meet by chance and whose lives become entwined in a tragic triangle of love, loss and betrayal. It follows Laurel's journey of discovering more about her family history and takes many unexpected turns and corners until ultimately she is left with the truth. It will have you page turning vigorously  second guessing and you know the 'lump in your throat' feeling? expect to get that too. A story to treasure for years to come with an unpredictable twist; read the Secret keeper. What if you could go back in time and change the course of history?  Not a humanities student alive can deny the countless hours they've spent considering the depth of this question, that which makes up the plot of Stephen King's latest book 11.22.63. King takes his readers back to the assassination of JFK, an unromantic choice, but a scene that caused tremendous rippling in the global geo-political pond.  Protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher from 2011, embarks on an intriguing journey back to 1958 and is dropped in the midst of the events that led to JFK’s death.  A renowned author, Stephen King’s ability to engage with pseudo-historical setting in a way that maintains any level of plausibility is astounding.  His ability to create an interactive atmosphere is on display yet again, and the depth of character displayed, not only by the protagonist, but also by other significant and much-maligned historical figures (no spoilers intended) is superb.  A chilling, yet completely engaging read, this is one of my personal favourites. If there’s a theme absolutely familiar to readers of Jodi Picoult, it’s that of family, and the immense pressures, both negative and positive, that come with blood bonds.  Luke Warren is involved in a car accident that leaves him in a coma; his estranged, fractured, and otherwise dysfunctional family gathers around him in mixed spirits. Facing them, a decision: his daughter and his estranged son must decide whether to keep Luke alive or to let him go forever. Cara is desperate to give her father hope, whereas Edward wants to terminate the life support right away, for reasons not entirely clear.  In Lone Wolf, Picoult tackles family politics with extremely well-balanced character interactions and well orchestrated plot developments.  Although Luke Warren is in a coma, his narrative voice permeates through in the undertones of this story in an eerie, poetic manner, and Picoult’s descriptive voice is a pleasure to be immersed in. Ad memoriam perpetuam… nihilis.  We as functioning people rely so much on the resilience of our own memories; we base feelings, actions, and knowledge of the world around us on a foundation of memory, believing that fundamental facets of our reality remain as we remember them.  What if that foundation were suddenly removed, casting us adrift in a sea of uncertainty with no context or perspective available other than the now?  Before I Go To Sleep is a compelling thriller dealing exploring this concept: Christine begins every new day having lost all previous knowledge or memory of past events; her identity and the identity of her loved ones are lost overnight.  She is encouraged by her doctor to keep a journal documenting her past, that she might remind herself every morning of who she is, but even that structure provides little solace.  She has two weeks’ worth of journal entries reminding her not to trust her husband, but she has no idea why.  An excellent read, Before I Go To Sleep chillingly provokes the reader into questioning his or her own memories and instincts.  If push came to shove, would you trust those around you, or your own instincts? How reliable is the world you have constructed, the world you take for granted? After the phenomenon that was Harry Potter, J.K Rowling is back and exploring new territory in her first major publication for adults (or, at least, specifically for adults). Set in Pagford, an idyllic rural English town, The Casusal Vacancy focuses on small town politics and mentalities.  It begins with the sudden death of Barry Fairbrother, a prominent member of the city council. This means that there is a seat on the council waiting to be filled, just as a war breaks out before the election. Pagford becomes the battleground for all sorts of social tensions, as this novel covers all the darker aspects of societal conflicts. Rowling’s strengths have already been well established: her character profiling and development are first-class; and unsurprisingly the strength of this novel lies in the development of her teenage characters. This is a close look at "Broken Britain" and steers clearly away from the magical realism of Harry Potter, though there are many recognizable aspects of her writing that are still present. Although maybe it will be difficult for Rowling to match the success or acclaim of the Harry Potter series, The Casual Vacancy is a solid release. With a beautiful front cover and quirky book title, The Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared tells the impressive story of Allan Karlsson, who on the morning of his one-hundredth birthday, whilst sitting quietly in his room and waiting for the big birthday party that he did not want, Allan decides to slowly, but surely climb out of the window of his old-folks home to go on a wild adventure. His first stop is a bus station where he encounters a strange young man wearing a leather jacket with the words "Never Again" embroidered on the back, who asks Allan to please look after his suitcase while he quickly pops into the bathroom. Allan politely agrees, but while waiting for the young man, notices that a bus has arrived. Allan impulsively decides to get on the bus without waiting for the young man, and takes the suitcase with him. Once the young man realises what had just occurred, he was understandably not very pleased and furiously goes on the chase of the foolish old man. And so begins the latest unlikely adventure of Allan Karlsson, involving hardcore criminals, hilarious characters and incompetent police. After all, you're never too old to have an adventure. As this adventure unfolds, you learn about Allan's remarkable life and how he was involved in the creation of the atom bomb, became friends with various communist leaders, the president of the United States and was a key figure in some of the most important events of the 20th century. The Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climed Out Of The Window And Disappeared is a quirky, hilarious and original story which makes for a light read. A must-read. In Old Bombay, opium dens are plentiful and the streets are violent. Stray dogs travel in packs, the opium smokers mutter in the darkness, lost in their own delusions, and prostitutes lure customers behind bars. In the dark underbelly of the city, bodies are appearing – those of the low, the poor, the unknown and the uncared for. Narcopolis tackles the hallucinogenic world of 1970s Bombay in a rich and powerful way. Author Thayil achieves something truly brilliant as he stitches together a vast tapestry of small narratives with the main voices being those of an opium addict, a prostitute, and a troubled artist/poet. The style is beautiful and lyrical and Thayil captures the atmosphere of Old Bombay with effective language that becomes as addictive as the opium. Sensory imagery overloads this wonderfully original story and evokes the almost forgotten world of Victorian London. Terry Pratchett?  Time travel? New book?  Yes please.   Although the legendary fantasy writer’s health may be failing, it is absolutely laudable that even while afflicted with Alzheimer’s, he is still producing quality literature for his loyal fanbase to treasure.  In this case, he has teamed up with Stephen Baxter to produce an intriguing and unpredictable sci-fi release in The Long Earth.  For anyone with an imagination, who doesn't require realism or traditional themes in order to be able to project oneself wholly into a novel, I cannot recommend this enough.  There are hundreds and hundreds of parallel Earths, ones wherein the dinosaurs have survived, where chance events either occur or fail to occur, such that something is always different.  There are as many infinite possibilities as there are chance events; the laws of physics remain the same, but anything that could possibly have happened, there is an earth to represent it.  Devices called ‘steppers’ allow travellers to transition from possible Earth to possible Earth, and there are even some people who are natural steppers, whether they realize it or not.  This is a mind-blowing work, enjoyable both in its executed manifestation, and in its ability to provoke the wonderment in the reader. Psychiatrist Zack Busner has recently arrived at Ferin House, a huge Victorian mental asylum situated in North London. He is trying to keep his head down when he meets Audrey Dearth, a working class woman who was born just before the 20th century and has spent the majority of her life in Ferin House.  During her time as a munitions worker, she developed encephalitis lethargica, a sleeping sickness that has since left her in a coma.  Busner becomes obsessed with Dearth, and cases like hers, and in trying to re-awaken her, he becomes the catalyst for a series of stark and unforeseen consequences.  Will Self has produced a daring, bold and incredibly exciting to read novel. He writes in an experimental, new-age style, featuring sudden temporal and perspective shifts, which might make Umbrella a challenging read for some.  However, with some persistence, this novel constitutes a deep and moving read, and the masterfully excavates the inner self of all of his characters. A fantastic novel! At number two is the historical novel by Hilary Mantel, Bring Up The Bodies. This novel follows Anne Boleyn at a time when Henry's obsession with her is dwindling, and with Katherine of Aragon's death, her popularity with the English people is likewise waning. The author captures Tudor England vividly in this incredible novel that follows the events leading up to Boleyn's trial and subsequent death. Captivating the drama and intrigue of Henry VIII, Mantel highlights the importance of Thomas Cromwell in the Anne Boleyn saga.  The plot is compelling and the style is refreshing as Mantel allows each of the characters to develop beyond their historical backdrop.  The author manages to achieve the seemingly impossible and represents the characters of English history in an original and engaging way. Zadie Smith really does achieve something incredible with her spectacular release NW, which follows numerous narratives of people living in a corner of a city, whose lives coalesce in an evocative depiction of city life.  The story begins with a woman Leah being visited by old acquaintance Shar, who appears asking for money. This unexpected event becomes the catalyst for events and hauntings of estate life in North London. This novel is a modernist masterpiece and Smith carefully brings together the chaotic inner workings of her characters with the chaotic city world they find themselves entrapped in. Smith is a brilliant writer and NW is an excellent work of fiction that captures modern life in an exciting and dramatic way.  The author’s strengths lie in her ability to balance inner and outer conflict between characters and the world around them.  An intertwining of excellent plot structures and endearing character developments makes this, without a doubt, the book of 2012.   We hope you’re mostly satisfied with our choices for the best books of 2012, and that you leave a comment below telling us exactly what we got wrong, and exactly what we got right.  2012 was an outstanding year for literary releases, with plenty of debuts, series continuations and sprinkled with landmark contributions from some of the best authors around.  Here’s to hoping that 2013 is an even better year. Happy... Read more →
Features

1

Spotlight on Scandinavian Crime Fiction

It is a well-known fact that only 5 % of books published in the UK are in translation which makes the overwhelming success of Scandinavian Crime Fiction, or Nordic Noir fiction even more impressive. Cult TV programmes like The Killing and Borgen have also contributed to the public interest in the mysterious north. The seemingly peaceful Scandinavian countries provide an ideal location for dastardly deeds with their long, dark nights and harsh climates, which appear both exotic and dangerous to British readers. The detectives in these novels seem far from content with living in some of the best welfare states in the world and are often melancholic alcoholics, just as flawed as those they are trying to bring to justice. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular authors from mainland Scandinavia. Peter Høeg was one of the first authors to bring Scandinavian Crime Fiction to the masses with the release of Smilla's Sense Of Snow in 1992. Smilla, who is the daughter of a Greenlandic Inuit and a Danish doctor is one of the world’s leading experts on ice and snow. When she moves to Copenhagen her only friend in an otherwise cold society is a little boy called Isaiah, a fellow Greenlander far from home. Tragically, he dies after falling from an icy roof in what the police deem to be an accident, but Smilla suspects is a more sinister occurrence judging by his tracks in the snow. In an investigation that takes her from the back streets of Copenhagen to a remote island off the Greenlandic coast, this is a thrilling read. Jo Nesbø is the man behind the bestselling Harry Hole series and although once dubbed “The next Stieg Larsson,”  he seems set to outperform his predecessor selling one book in the series every 23 seconds! The latest book to be published in the UK is actually the first in the series and whisks Harry Hole away from the mean streets of Oslo to sunny Australia as he investigates the murder of a Norwegian TV star. The more Harry uncovers about a string of unsolved murders, the more he arouses the attention of a possible serial killer. The narrative is incredibly fast paced and often violent, leaving readers dying to find out what poor Inspector Hole will have to endure next. Henning Mankell is the award-winning creator of the Wallander series which was made into a British TV series starring Kenneth Brannagh. Although detective Kurt Wallander might not have much luck in his personal life, he is brilliant at following hunches and has a great desire for uncovering the truth. The first book in the series, Faceless Killers, sees Wallander investigating the extremely brutal murder of an elderly couple on a local farm. The last thing the old woman said before she died was “foreign” which places the new flood of immigration workers in the line of suspicion and more than that, danger. Wallander has to act before people take matters into their own hands. The character of Wallander himself proves to be the biggest... Read more →
Best Books

2

If you liked Harry Potter…

Due to the ‘legacy’ of the cinematic remakes, it can be a difficult thing for readers, especially young ones, to conjure an image of the Harry Potter series that doesn't involve Daniel Radcliffe, a very angry Alan Rickman, and a strangely nose-less Ralph Fiennes.  For myself and others of my generation, the Harry Potter books constituted the first major introduction to the world of serious literature, a phenomenon made all the more effective because I was the same age as Harry throughout the whole series (due to J.K. Rowling’s rigorous release schedule), allowing me to grow up alongside him.  The reason it enjoyed such success over a fairly wide age group is due to the combination of adult themes with young adult conflicts, all of which befell teenage protagonists; the Potter saga is in-depth enough to offer good character development and event structuring, without crushing the reader with relentless descriptive rhetoric.  In the wake of Harry Potter, some other series have also capitalized on the broad and open market available for this combination of young adult – adult fiction, titles such as The Hunger Games, Eragon, and The Golden Compass (if you haven’t read those, any of them would be a good place to start!).  In this list, I have attempted to provide for those Potter fans some other classic and perhaps lesser-known titles, ones that feature the same type of literary themes and that will hopefully further inspire both young readers and older readers trying to reconnect with their own youth. Our first pick is an up-and-coming series by author Cassandra Clare that already features 5 released titles with another release and a full-length feature film both forthcoming.  City of Bones is the first title in The Mortal Instruments series, a young adult publication combining classic fantasy writing with modern urban themes.  The series follows young protagonist Clary Fray as she embarks on a dark journey marked with danger and self-discovery, in this particular instance involving a group of demon slayers known as the Shadow hunters   In a classic supernatural fantasy set-up, Clary is forced to adjust to the dark and often dangerous world of the Shadow hunters while attempting to figure out her own story, both in the realization of who she is and in the discovery of how she fits into this new world. The author Cassie Clare has an established background in writing Harry Potter fan-fiction, and a number of familiar themes from that series are recognizable in her writing.  Both the narrative style and character dialogue throughout The Mortal Instruments should be a comfortable fit for fans of the Potter series, as well as many of the character schemas.  In the first book, much of the respective character development is admittedly a bit predictable, but as the series progresses they gain strength and depth, and most readers will find ample reason to become connected to them.  City of Bones is a very readable work, and a good introduction to The Mortal Instruments storyline; it is a fast paced and gritty book, and the author possesses good storytelling ability despite the fair amount of predictability in the storyline. Another of the more familiar works on the list, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians has already gained a fairly substantial following among some audiences, beginning with the first instalment in the series, The Lightning Thief.  Some of you may even have seen the poor, but well-intended Hollywood release of this book; rest assured, you’ll find more entertainment and substance from the book than the movie (what a surprise!).  Percy Jackson, if you can believe it, does not seem quite to fit in with other kids, at school, or in society as a whole.  This may or may not be due to the fact that he is the son of Poseidon, the Ancient Greek god of the ocean.  Again, the framework is very similar to the Potter series, most notably in terms of conflicts between character and environment; a series of strange circumstances and events befall Percy, and once his true heritage is revealed to him, he faces a struggle adjusting to his new role.  The main storyline revolves around the theft of Zeus’ thunderbolt, an event that could signal an all-out war of the gods unless the thief is captured and the missing weapon returned. The Lightning Thief is perhaps aimed at a slightly younger audience than some of the other books featured on this list; it is a bit lighter, less dense and gritty, but surprisingly humorous.  However, the book does feature some very adult themes that underlie Percy’s conflicts with the world around him (most notably, his chosen existence within it).  Personally, I found Percy to be a more likeable hero than Harry, although perhaps not quite as compelling.  Riordan builds his works around a very attractive concept; he has modernized some of the greatest myths and characters from the profound and awe-inspiring historical culture that is Ancient Greece.  As a result, the richness of Riordan’s composed world suffers a bit in comparison with those that have been taken from legend; that being said, the infusion of Greek mythology to the storyline is incredibly appealing. Better thought of as a progression from the Potter series rather than a sideways step into more of the same, The Belgariad can be considered a gateway saga for young adults to the world of adult fantasy.  David Eddings has established for himself a huge following among older and more experienced fantasy readers, but perhaps isn’t well known by younger generations.  His works have provided the inspiration behind the Eragon series, and readers will immediately be able to recognize the writing style adopted by Christopher Paolini, although in this author’s opinion, he has never been able to execute his writing as effectively as Eddings.  Set in the style of high fantasy, as opposed to modern fantasy, Pawn of Prophecy features the same themes that fuel all successful young adult storylines.  The young hero Garion has no idea that he is a hero, no parents or known heritage, and ultimately no idea of the role he is to play in the unfolding of history.  Unexplained events force him to leave his home unexpectedly, and Garion finds himself wrapped up in a strange journey for reasons that no one will explain to him.  He eventually finds out that he is one of the few remaining sorcerers left in the world, and perhaps the most powerful one of all – he just has to stay alive long enough to make it count. As opposed to Harry Potter, The Belgariad is less cyclical as a saga, and more odyssean.  Garion embarks on a quest that sees him explore the world as a physical and cultural entity in ways that he couldn’t have imagined before.  Despite the constant motion of the characters and rapid progression of the plot, Eddings manages to avoid any narrative repetition, and makes each city, conflict, and character memorable and engaging.  An absolute master of dialogue, this is the facet of The Belgariad that will resonate most with readers who are new to the works of David Eddings; the interaction of the characters is compelling and invokes an emotional reaction from the reader without the cheesiness factor that seems to permeate some authors’ attempts at witty dialogue.  The Belgariad is one of the most influential series that I have ever read, both as an exposure to adult literature as well as a tremendous saga in its own right. Firstly, this book contains vampires – don’t freak out!  With all the rabid reactions to phenomena like Twilight and True Blood, vampires have become a social taboo apparently suitable only for ignorant pre-teen girls.  The vampires that the author Darren Shan conceives of are neither the sparkly kind, nor the mindless killing machines depicted elsewhere.  The main character of the series, also named Darren Shan, is a young teenager with some strange interests and bizarre quirks, most notably his fascination with spiders.  A character foil to his best friend Steve, who shares similar occult interests but with rather more sinister personality traits than Darren, the two of them attend the Cirque du Freak, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.  Both Darren and Steve are completely enthralled by what they see at the circus, albeit for vastly different reasons.  The plot kicks off when Darren steals an extraordinarily rare and dangerous tarantula from the circus, prompting a series of consequences that sees Darren indebted to a vampire and faced-off against his old friend. This series is slightly different in that, rather than being the long-lost son of an ancient wizarding family, or some other such environment, Darren is fully aware of the choices he makes that result in his involvement with the vampiric world.  Another series targeted towards younger readers, Cirque du Freak features great young protagonists that actually act their age, as opposed to super 12 year olds that are written to be twenty-five.  I wouldn’t say that there is the same level of empathy for the characters as in such series as Harry Potter; the reader’s connection with Darren begins with more of a restrained incredulity.  Nonetheless, the reader is drawn in by the fascinating plot that overshadows the perhaps rusty writing of the first book.  Cirque du Freak is a fun, easy read with a great story that only gets better as the reader progresses through the series. Another odyssean high fantasy series, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is as similar in many respects to A Game of Thrones as it is to Harry Potter.  We’re back with the traditional ‘humble origins and unknown significance’ of the main protagonist; this time, it’s young Simon the kitchen boy and part-time apprentice to the castle doctor.  Simon is forced to flee for his life after saving an imprisoned prince from the dungeons and, as is true to scheme, becomes entangled in a journey that reveals to him parts of the world he never thought he’d see.  The entire book is not all journeys and wandering, however a large part of it is spent trying to locate and obtain three legendary swords with which Simon and the Prince might combat the evil that is threatening the land. The Dragonbone Chair is a very dark and gritty work, perhaps surprisingly so.  Simon is very Potter-esque in his temperament as a young hero, and encounters many of the same challenges as he seeks to mature.  The book also features a strong young female protagonist in Princess Miriamele, for fans of the Hermione character schema.  While some authors thrive on character interactions and dialogue, and others provide exciting action-packed event structures and sequences, Tad Williams’ ability to arrange the big picture, and slowly reveal it to the characters (and the reader) piece by piece is what makes this saga truly gripping.  A lot of high fantasy books feature a journey fraught with danger, but somehow tinged with hope and security, as the reader just knows a happy ending is right around the corner.  There is no such security in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn; the story is tainted with a kind of sadness and loss, an attribute that only adds to the compelling nature of the story. From high fantasy, we now fly past modern fiction and travel all the way to the dystopian future.  Veronica Roth’s Divergent should be approached with a slightly different mentality than the other books on this list; it will undoubtedly draw comparisons with The Hunger Games, as a young adult dystopian fiction, this is unavoidable.  Our heroine, Beatrice ‘Tris’ Prior lives in a severely fractured Chicago, where every 16-year old citizen must choose between one of five houses (ahem – factions): Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent).  Tris is discovered to be ‘divergent’, that is, she is compatible with three of the factions where most teens are only compatible with one.  As one might imagine, with such a fractured society, tensions arise between the factions.  Tris’ controversial decision to join the Dauntless comes at just the right time to involve her in a citywide conspiracy, bringing these tensions to the fore. First of all, in order to enjoy this book, the reader has to accept the concept for what it is.  The plot, characters, and entire world are all completely self-indulgent; they are the way they are, and that’s the way the book is written.  This is dystopian fiction, and can really only be appreciated as such, without attempting to ground the work in any sort of tangible reality.  That being said, it is a lot of fun.  The author conceives of a gripping plot, extremely fast-paced and action packed.  I, for one, am a sucker for training/initiation scenes, and this book delivers with bells on.  The tasks Tris and the other initiates are forced to complete, her interactions with her peers, and the entire hierarchy all appealed to me and ticked every single indulgent box on my list.  Tris, as a protagonist, might not appeal to some readers just as much as she might strike a chord with others; she is brazen and not at all subtle, ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ style.  Not for everyone, this book will definitely find some die-hard fans of young adult fantasy. Ultimately, the Harry Potter series is unlike any other of our generation.  It is highly unlikely that there will be another saga able to evoke such a strong, worldwide reaction among youths and young adults for some time.  Inasmuch as Harry Potter has helped inspire a generation to start reading and interacting with literature as a choice rather than as a punishment, it is our task to continue this trend and encourage the seeking out and interaction with as much literature as possible.  In this list, I have attempted to bring together some works and titles that I hope will appeal to those who did find inspiration in the world of Harry Potter.  There are many tales of growth, bravery, and exploration, and I hope that you will find these ones worth... Read more →
Best Books

1

Best Christmas Books

Whether you like it or not, the nights are drawing in and Christmas is creeping ever closer. It's time to wrap your presents, deck the halls and then snuggle up in front of the fire with a good book. Don't be a Scrooge, get into the seasonal swing of things and most importantly of all - enjoy the colder nights by snuggling up to a great read! Here are my top 10 works of the best Christmas books.  The Christmas Mystery is a wonderfully multi-layered retelling of the nativity by the man who made philosophy fun for kids with the novel Sophie's World. When Elisabeth disappears from her home in Norway, she finds that she has not only travelled thousands of miles away but also thousands of years back in time where she encounters the holy family. Meanwhile, in modern Norway, Joachim is given a strange advent calendar which gradually unveils Elisabeth's story behind each window. The 24 beautifully crafted chapters recapture some of the lost innocence of Christmas and like every good advent calendar, you will have to stop yourself from peeking at the treats ahead! The Night Before Christmas is a rom-com waiting to happen if ever there was one, with more than a touch of Love Actually within it. The action takes place over one week, when unlucky-in-love Lydia is invited to spend Christmas with some of her oldest friends in the idyllic setting of the Lake District. It sounds blissful until she finds herself snowed in with her boyfriend, ex-lover and a handsome stranger. Bailey's warm and funny style emulates a truly Christmassy glow and she manages to weave an engaging story that would be perfect to delve into when you're recovering from the festive excesses on Boxing Day. A simply enchanting tale of a young boy whisked away on a train ride to meet Father Christmas himself on Christmas Eve. Despite his friends' doubts he still believes in the magic surrounding the North Pole and as such he is rewarded with the choice of any gift he likes from the sleigh. Much to most children's surprise he decides on a bell. This is a simple but classic story that will continue to delight children and parents with its dream-like illustrations and heart warming message.   I'm sure everyone can recite the first few lines but it is worth rediscovering the rest of this classic poem. It has remained a firm favourite for so many children over the years because it manages to capture the magic of the most exciting day of the year- Christmas Eve. The wonderful lyrical verse is perfect for reading at bedtimes in the run up to the big day and the beautiful illustrations by Chris Birmingham are timeless. The Grinch is a creature who hates everything and he hates Christmas above all else. He has a dastardly plan to dress up as a sinister Santa and steal the Whos' presents to put a stop to the merriment once and for all. Little does he know it will take more than that to cancel Christmas! Featuring the famous and utterly quotable rhyming style as well as the spidery illustrations of Dr Seuss, The Grinch who stole Christmas is a reincarnation of the classic character of Mr Scrooge and reminds a new generation of readers about the season of goodwill and the true meaning of Christmas. If you are one of those people who dreads Christmas rolling around each year and the idea of festive cheer makes you feel a bit nauseous then perhaps this will be a suitable stocking filler. With 26 mysterious short stories by the likes of Agatha Christie, Woody Allen and Arthur Conan Doyle, this collection is sure to provide a welcome relief from seasonal stresses, whilst also appealing to readers who can't get enough of crime fiction, even at Christmas! There are definitely some killer and some filler stories in this collection but overall a great alternative Yuletide read. Happy Hogswatch everyone! That is to say, Merry Christmas of course in the 20th book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. The Auditors who are in charge of the whole universe want the Hogfather removed. However, Death is having none of it, he dons a fake beard and a red suit and vows to act as the Hogfather's replacement and save Hogswatch himself. Rather surprisingly Death is the star of the show and has a cracking sense of humour. This is a surreal take on Christmas and another absurd but marvellous Pratchett masterpiece. A Christmas Carol is definitely one of the most well-known and best feel-good festive reads ever written. Dickens' gift for character writing is unparalleled and the iconic characters of Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim have become synonymous with this time of year. When Scrooge is haunted by the ghost of his business partner, he is warned that he will be visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future in a bid to make him change his ways. As always, the descriptions of Victorian London are fascinating, but it is the transformation of Scrooge's character and the prevailing theme of goodwill to all men which continues to captivate every generation. Although it is usually children who write letters to Father Christmas, Tolkien's children must have been especially good because every year they received intricately illustrated and specially stamped letters from the North Pole. They detailed the life of Santa himself and included fantastic descriptions of the clumsy North Polar Bear, the elves and the famous Goblin wars. This is an enchanting precursor to The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings trilogy and would be perfectly suited to a younger audience of potential fantasy fans. The simultaneously beautiful and melancholic illustrations of Raymond Briggs are enough to ignite the imagination... The Snowman tells the story of a young boy who, having spent a winter's day building a snowman, looks out of his window at bedtime to find that his creation has come to life. The next day he shows the snowman around his house and in return his new friend takes him on a magical trip flying through the night sky. However, when the boy comes downstairs the next morning, he is horrified to see that the snowman has melted away. Was it all a dream? Although the top Christmas book does not contain any words, the simultaneously beautiful and melancholic soft pastel illustrations of Raymond Briggs are enough to ignite the imagination and parents and children will enjoy telling the story their own way.   I hope you enjoyed my best Christmas books list - Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you... Read more →
Best Books

1

Best John Grisham Books

Ladies and gentlemen, bookworms and bibliophiles, adjudicators of literary justice: it is a stark position in which you now find yourselves.  Before you stands a genre of fiction so dominated by one author, indeed it has been asserted that legal drama has become synonymous with the name in question, that of the defendant Mr John Ray Grisham, Jr.  I am entrusted, on behalf of Author Attic, with the responsibility of accounting for this state of affairs.  I shall present the following interpretation as evidence, subjecting the defendant’s works to the utmost scrutiny and providing a thorough case for your consideration. It is my goal that, in presenting the Top Ten John Grisham Books, you will find some means to pass well-reasoned and rational judgment on these works that have so impacted a literary genre. It is appropriate that this investigation should begin at the number 10 spot with Grisham’s first published novel, A Time to Kill.  In the fictional southern town of Clanton, Mississippi, two white men rape and assault a 10-year old black girl.  What follows is a whirlwind of reaction and counter-reaction, the harshest of which is carried out by the young girl’s father against the assailants in a violent act of retribution.  A loyal young defence attorney attempts to salvage the remnants of what is right and wrong among the ashes of justice, with the book reaching a crescendo of violence before the trial comes to an emotional conclusion. Grisham fuels this novel using his own courtroom experience, and one can clearly see the inspiration drawn from themes present in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.  A Time to Kill contains edgy themes, but they are played out in a fairly predictable manner; it is a powerful work, but perhaps a bit simple compared to later releases.  What Grisham does display most effectively, however, is the ability to manipulate events and characters in compelling conflicts and interactions, and it is this facet of his writing that makes A Time to Kill a much-recommended title. “Let all ye who search for justice draw nigh and get screwed.” In contrast, The Brethren is about as hackneyed and predictable as this week’s national lotto numbers.  Set predominantly in Trumble, a fictional minimum-security federal prison in Florida, three former judges have established a system of what could possibly resemble justice (if one doesn’t look too closely), regulating the affairs of the other inmates.  The Brethren, as they are known, are also running a blackmail ring from inside the prison with the help of a crooked lawyer – a scam that, unfortunately, hooks the worst possible victim and least low-key figure in the entire country. The Brethren is a testament to Grisham’s ability to produce compelling event structures, while demonstrating how incorrect it is to pigeonhole legal fiction as stale and limited to the courtroom.  It is a work with intriguing themes, not the least of which involves the sexual nature of The Brethren’s blackmail scam and some very interesting allusions to similar issues in contemporary politics.  The Brethren also features several different protagonists, none of whom actually fit the schema of being a good person; that they are no less likeable despite this fact can be attributed to excellent character writing.  Ultimately, this book proves that crime does pay, but is executed such that the reader doesn’t actually mind. Exhibit C, and number 8 on the list, is Grisham’s 1997 thriller The Partner, possibly the most well written book to feature no likeable characters whatsoever.  Okay, perhaps that was a bit exaggerated; The Partner follows a young Mississippi lawyer Patrick Lanigan as he attempts to disappear with dirty money stolen from equally dirty sources, and start a new life in South America.  When the bad guys eventually track him down, he gets tortured; when the FBI come and save him, he gets prosecuted – not the best of outcomes, to be sure.  In order to save his neck, and his fortune, Patrick must become the proverbial Puppet Master, initiating a course of actions that muddy the water for everyone involved, and leave the reader wondering just who will come out on top. As the main protagonist, Patrick Lanigan is a compelling character, but controversial: some will root for him, others will root for his downfall.  He is an underdog who appears entirely too smooth at certain points in the story, perhaps to the detriment of his likeability.  Where The Partner does succeed, as is becoming a common theme, is with Grisham’s storytelling; he manages to slowly unravel the back story throughout the unfolding of events, making this a real page-turner in the truest sense of the words.  The ending is surprising, especially given the context of the rest of the story, and whether you love it or hate it, it’s definitely one to remember. "I was tired of secrets, tired of seeing things I was not supposed to see. And so I just cried." Caution: this isn’t a legal thriller.  A Painted House is Grisham’s first venture away from his bread and butter, and the reason it is placed at number 7 on his top book list is because it is such a pleasant surprise.  Told from the perspective of 7-year old Luke Chandler, a southern boy growing up on a cotton farm, the story follows his experiences through harvest season and focuses on his interactions with family, neighbours, and the hired help.  Grisham weaves a believable and intricate backdrop, consisting of the details and routines of your typical southern boy growing up on a farm, while at the same time piercing the cloth with harsh events that change the way Luke sees the world and people around him. A Painted House gives Grisham a chance to demonstrate his narrative ability outside of his traditional comfort zone.  This book is not as fast-paced and relentless as the legal books tend to be; this benefits both the reader and the author, as the former is able to immerse him/herself in the well-developed and intricate storytelling of the latter.  Grisham accomplishes what all good storytellers aim to do: he invites you to become invested in the characters and events – a valuable talent, regardless of the genre. “You advised him not to get a lawyer, giving as one of your reasons the opinion that lawyers are a pain in the ass. Gentlemen, the pain is here.” Grisham brings us back to the political ballroom at number 6 with The Client, a return to the fast-paced world of mafia manoeuvring and the legal quickstep.  Sticking with a theme of child witnesses, a young protagonist again holds the key to the overarching conflict, namely the whereabouts of a significant mafia murder victim.  This time it’s 11-year old Mark Sway, who suddenly finds himself caught between the mafia and the FBI, neither being particularly well known for asking nicely.  Mark is represented by the surprisingly well-intentioned (for a John Grisham character) Reggie Love, an inexperienced lawyer and the young boy’s only defence against a world that suddenly seems to have lost all sense of parental instinct. As a child protagonist, Mark will undoubtedly be attractive to some, in a young Indiana Jones kind of way, but he does lose some credibility in just how adult he appears at times.  The Client is quite straightforward in terms of standard protagonists and antagonists: there are clearly good guys, bad guys, and guys, however well intentioned, that consistently interfere with Mark and Reggie, and all of the characters have fairly straightforward motivations for taking the course of actions that they do.  However, the result of this is not a dull, trudging storyline; rather, the cast sprint through conflicts at breakneck speed, and the reader will find him/herself willingly running alongside them. “I'm alone and outgunned, scared and inexperienced, but I'm right.” The Rainmaker is what you get when John Grisham plays to his strengths, dotting his Is, crossing his Ts, and executing a textbook legal thriller.  This book follows a different kind of hero from some featured above; Rudy Baylor isn’t particularly bright, motivated, or experienced, and is far from flashy.  Forced to take on some less-than-savoury prospects upon graduation from Memphis State Law School, Rudy is the least appropriate lawyer to stumble upon the mother of all insurance fraud cases, especially considering A) he’s never been to trial before, and B) the company he is suing has one of the country’s best defence attorneys standing against him.  This is a heart-rending underdog story, which by the end leaves the reader questioning just who the law is there to protect. This title leaves no doubt as to the ability of Grisham to write engaging characters and clever dialogues.  Unlike some of his other publications, The Rainmaker is quite courtroom based, dealing with legal avenues and defences that some of the more flashy titles do not deal with in-depth.  The Rainmaker is a far less fanciful book: there’s no mafia, murder, crooked politicians, or wild fleeing of justice. This is a gritty, entirely too realistic book which may leave some readers more emotionally affected than they might expect. Grisham again shows his flexibility, even within a genre that, from the outside, looks relatively restrictive; after all, there are only so many ways one can dramatize the courtroom, right?  Apparently not: as is proven in The Runaway Jury, even the administrative aspects of legal practice can provide the backdrop for thrilling conflict and conspiracy.  The widow of a lung cancer victim attempts to file against a giant tobacco corporation in a lawsuit that features as much action behind the scenes as in the courtroom.  Someone approaches Rankin Fitch, a pro-smoking trial ‘consultant’, claiming to be able to guarantee him a dismissal based on juror manipulation.  Grisham provides a viewpoint both from within the infiltrated jury as well as from the outside, slowly drawing the reader into the midst of the entangled web before revealing the surprising truth in a shocking conclusion. The Runaway Jury is another very character-focused book; the reader will again have a very atypical, nonstandard relationship with both the antagonist and the protagonists.  This will probably be further affected by the heavy anti-smoking themes, which can get a bit preachy at times, but is nonetheless a controversial and polarizing issue that most people, in one way or another, deal with on a daily basis.  The book does not proceed at breakneck speed, but neither is it a slow-burner; Grisham has produced an intriguing work that builds on clever dialogue and character manipulation and culminates in an effective climax. The Testament is half-legal drama, half-action adventure, as Grisham takes lawyer Nate O’Riley and drops him in the middle of the Brazilian jungle in an unlikely quest to find the long lost heir to a billionaire’s fortune.  Just out of rehab, Nate now has to deal with wealthy recluse Troy Phelan’s entirely unhappy extended family, right after the billionaire cut them out of his will and subsequently committed suicide before their very eyes.  Phelan left his fortune to his illegitimate daughter who has forsaken all worldly goods and is living with indigenous tribes in the depths of the Brazilian wilderness.  Nate has to fight a war on two fronts, finding this daughter and persuading her to take the money while protecting the recently deceased Phelan’s last actions against a swarm of legal suits from the other family members. This is a very fast-paced release, but slightly divergent to what is considered Grisham’s usual style.  The author’s strengths are present in The Testament, but played out here in a slightly different context; most of the eggs are out of the basket within the first few chapters, so there’s less suspense throughout the book as compared to the true legal thrillers, though the end does feature a nice twist.  The Testament is a more feel-good publication, with introspective morals and compelling character writing (especially the ever-sardonic Nate).  That Grisham is able to play to his strengths successfully in a different framework is what makes this book so enjoyable. Considered one of his best works, it should not come as a surprise that The Pelican Brief places so highly at number 2.  We’re back in the realm of political intrigue, as two incongruous Supreme Court Justices are disposed of within the same 24-hour period, with no one able to figure out the motivation behind the killings… no one except (of course) our heroine Darby Shaw, a second-year Tulane University Law School student, whose lucky guess turns out to be unfortunate for the immediate well-being of herself and anyone standing too close to her.  As one might expect, the orchestrator of the murders gets wind of Darby’s exposition, and like any reasonable person attempts to extinguish her before any further damage can be done.  What follows is one-part legal manoeuvring and two-part assassin dodging, as Darby attempts to expose the truth while guarding her back. The reason this book should be regarded so highly is due to Grisham’s storytelling ability; while a high standard has been set in all the titles we've reviewed so far, the way Grisham unravels the plot for the reader goes above and beyond in The Pelican Brief.  The protagonist actually figures everything out fairly early on, but she’s pretty sceptical of it herself, and a lot of that gets transmitted to the reader.  As the story progresses, however, the reality of the situation gets slowly fed to her, piece by piece, until the reader is fully immersed in Darby’s struggle to survive.  Grisham hooks the reader with excellent event structures, and the strength of character displayed by Darby Shaw draws the reader in even further. The pinnacle of legal fiction, The Firm cast a shadow within the genre extending over the next two decades.  His first bestseller, this book represents the archetypical ‘Grisham’ novel, and really ought to be read before any of his newer releases, let alone the 1993 Hollywood film on which it is based.  Every aspect of this book represents the best of what it should be; the character interaction, dialogue, event structure, and scene setting; The Firm is a classic, rendered fallible only by the profession it attempts to reflect.  Mitch McDeere is a Harvard graduate lawyer with a bright mind and a brighter future; straight out of law school he receives the job offer that most people can only dream of from Memphis-based law firm Bendini, Lambert & Locke.  Cue at this point several suspicious deaths, an FBI investigation, and the involvement of the mafia, and suddenly Mitch is in a dance of death with more than one partner. Compared to the rest of the entries, The Firm does not break any barriers, bend any rules, or stray well beyond the beaten path.  What Grisham delivers, and what takes this book to number 1 on this list of the best John Grisham Books is pure, raw storytelling prowess.  The plot is extremely gripping and laden with suspense, both realistic and fanciful at appropriate moments; the characters are likewise superhuman when they need to be, yet realistic enough to create some attachment on the part of the reader.  The plot progresses comfortably at first, rising to a thrilling crescendo at the climax when potential conflicts materialize.  This book is a classic, representing all the plaudits and praise Grisham has received over the years in its 500 pages of pure storytelling gold. In the preceding account, I have attempted to provide you with an account of the works attributed to the defendant, and an interpretation thereof; I urge you all to take the time and assess the character of the defendant through the character of these works.  If nothing else, it is my hope that you be able to come to a conclusion concerning the role of Mr John Grisham, and his impact on the world of legal fiction, and that in doing so all credit be duly given where said credit justly... Read more →
Best Books

1

Best Nutrition Books

Who wants to live forever? Most of us can agree that earthy immortality would drag after the first few centuries, but all of us would prefer to remain in optimum condition during our lives. Though modern medicine is certainly a blessing, the books which follow indicate that we might be better off simply modifying our diets to remain healthy. Without further ado, I present to you what I believe to be the Best Nutrition Books to read. Jillian Michaels is considered the ultimate fitness guru in today’s exercise circles. Her popular DVDs have had millions of people, mostly women, doing frantic starjumps and lunges in fear of her scalding tongue. The Master Your Metabolism Cookbook does not directly address fitness, instead focusing on foods which can control people's hormones in order to become more energetic and healthier. It rejects fad diets and aims to increase overall health rather than mere weight loss. The cookbook contains over 125 recipes which guarantee to enhance nutrition without breaking the bank or taking all day. Not long ago, many superfoods were rare and almost impossible, whether because they were difficult to harvest, tropically grown or illegal in the US. This has changed within the last hundred years or so, and it has become possible for all of us to sample the wondrous effects of maca, cacao beans and goji berries. In this book, David Wolfe comprehensively explains the health benefits of these foods and the reasons for their glowing reputations. Superfoods also has sections on the history and mythology surrounding those foods. Roughly 70% of the population have no idea of their blood type. That statistic includes me, my entire family and most of my friends. This ignorance is due mostly to lack of necessity; we have been informed that blood type is important only when donating blood or undergoing a transfusion. However, this book advances the surprising theory that blood type is highly relevant, a major factor in body chemistry, and can dictate a person’s ideal diet. Dr. D’Adamo explains that eating for our blood types can boost our immune system, leave us less susceptible to certain diseases and increase our ability to handle stress. Readers will discover which category of exercise will best suit their blood type and other interesting facts. Every parent today seems to spend a fair amount of time in panic mode. To their frazzled brains, every cough or tummy ache could be an outbreak of SARS just waiting to happen. It doesn't even occur to them that they may be feeding their child the wrong foods. Written by a nutritionist and a paediatrician, The Food Cure explains how children can suffer from nutritional imbalances, resulting in illness, infections or pain. Parents can look up their child’s symptoms and alter his or her diet accordingly. If parents that treat their children with wholesome food rather than unneeded medications, they can overcome various minor ailments. The children will become more capable and energetic, ready to face the challenges of growing up. Pierre Dukan’s very name hints that he can whisper the secret of the slim French physique to the rest of us. Perhaps that is why about 3 million people bought his book, tried his diet and gave it a metaphorical round of applause. The Dukan Diet contains four separate phases: 1. Attack. The dieter spends two to seven days eating only a daily bran pancake and unlimited lean protein. 2. Cruise. Dieters eat unlimited lean protein every other day, and the rest of the time can eat protein and healthy vegetables until they reach their True Weight. 3. Consolidation. This diet lasts five days for each pounds lost. Dieters can have unlimited protein and vegetables and are reintroduced to some other foods. They are allowed two ‘celebration meals’ a week during this phase. 4. Stabilisation. Dieters can eat what they like, but must follow three rules, one of which is that they eat only unlimited lean protein one day a week. Half-way through my best nutrition books list comes a book that tackles common myths and misconceptions about what food is healthy and what is not. Politically Incorrect Nutrition is particularly harsh on fads and fashions. In the first chapter of his book, Barbee takes on the popularity of green tea, marketed as something of a ‘super-antioxidant’. Barbee explains that in its original format, green tea could be healthy. Unfortunately, today it is dangerously saturated with fluoride, which makes drinking green tea in large amounts can result in skeletal fluorosis or hyperthyroidism. The book goes on to discuss the so-called health benefits of soy and vitamin C and the destructive effect of aspartame and fluoride, as well as dispelling other health and nutrition-related myths. An excellent read. Wheat Belly recommends eliminating wheat from our diet. This may seem like a drastic measure to some of us, but the book explains how this can benefit our appearances, weight and overall physical health. According to Dr. Davis, up to half the Americans who consume wheat suffer from health problems which are caused or enhanced by the presence of wheat in their diets. This condemnation of wheat is not merely theoretical: Dr. Davis carried out a study on over 2000 patients, documenting the revolutionary changes in their bodies since giving up wheat. He views this sacrifice as the ‘key’ to losing weight and becoming healthier, and hundreds of five-star Amazon reviews are testament to the value of his hypothesis. None of us like being sick, and this book offers a practical way to strengthen our immune systems through a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, beans and seeds. In a culture which medicates every twinge, Dr. Fuhman’s take on improving resistance to disease by simply altering one’s diet is refreshing. Dr. Fuhrman shares his theory that artificial sweeteners, processed foods and an over-abundance of protein has left our immune systems weakened, leaving us vulnerable to illnesses both commonplace and more severe. Recommended foods span a range of tastes and include black rice, mushrooms and green tea, which promise to significantly reduce the number of days per year spent in illness. The China Study is a best-selling book which has affected perceptions of diet worldwide. Professor Colin Campbell began to research diet and health in 100 different Chinese villages in an effort to prove that a Western diet rich in protein and dairy was ultimately the healthiest for people. To his surprise, the results of his surveys turned out to be the opposite of his idea, proving that a plant-based diet can prevent many common illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The ex-President of the United States, Bill Clinton, found the China Study so revolutionary that he took up a near-vegan diet in an attempt to reverse his heart disease and lost 24 lbs. Campbell also speaks against the ‘scientific reductionism’ which attempts to find one key nutrient, a kind of Holy Grail which will solve all problems regardless of lifestyle and diet. His book examines the socio-political context of the food industry. All in all, the China Study is something of a classic, avoiding gimmicks and giving a full and unbiased perspective on the true meaning of eating right. In Defense of Food discusses the food choices people make in the Western world. We are often fooled by nutrients and calories, failing to realise that the taste of our food may be dictated by its chemical content rather than its natural ingredients. Pollan’s theories are simple, recommending thinking carefully about what we eat and increasing our intake of plants. He calls us to resist the time-saving power of processed foods, instead eating the way our grandparents did and making up the time in a longer and healthier life. However, this book is not a mere theoretical manifesto, but a practical guide to grocery shopping. Pollan explains the terminology which is so confusing to shoppers, and reminds us that much of the meat we eat is heavily doctored with hormones and antibiotics. He advises us on how to avoid these traps with a practical, common sense approach.   I hope you enjoyed this list of the best nutrition books and if you wish to mention any other great books, feel free to comment in the section below. Here's to a long, healthy and happy... Read more →
Best Books

5

Best Star Wars Books

Every literary genre can lay claim to a series of definitive works, those that have set the standard within a tradition.  Perhaps they are responsible for laying the very foundations of a genre, or perhaps they are the mould-breakers, those pushing the boundaries of creativity.  Science fiction is no exception, boasting (among others) the works of Asimov, Clarke, Lovecraft, and Burroughs – these are regarded as titans of sci-fi literature.  The inclusion of the Star Wars franchise in such esteemed company should come as no surprise to any connoisseurs of sci-fi culture; the struggle between Jedi and Sith goes far beyond the 3 original movies (and 3 subsequent monstrosities).  The Star Wars universe continues in a powerful and profound literary saga, more than deserving of proper recognition alongside the other great works of science fiction.  It is on that basis that we now pay homage to this classic series in our review of the Top 10 Best Star Wars Books. “I couldn't just stand there and watch him blast you.  But don't go tryin' to make me out as some kinda hero, Chewie.  I don't need a partner, and I don't want a friend.  My name says it all, pal.  Solo." We begin our survey with Ann C. Crispin’s The Hutt Gambit, an exciting prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy that focuses on the exploits and shenanigans of a young Han Solo.  The second novel in the series, it contains all the juicy details one might hope for: the flowering of friendship with Chewbacca, the introduction of Bobba Fett, and the infamous deal with Jabba the Hutt.  Crispin has to toe the line in terms of balancing creative license while remaining loyal both to Han Solo’s established character and history, a task she handles with relatively little discomfort.  With this in mind, Crispin is able to flex her creative muscle and allow Han Solo to thrive in a role most suited to him – the spotlight.  Fast-paced, just like the man himself, this novel won’t disappoint any fans of the classic Star Wars franchise. The final book in the New Jedi Order series, The Unifying Force brings the Yuuzhan Vong invasion initiated in Vector Prime to an epic conclusion, as the remnants of the Galactic Alliance and the Jedi fight to protect what is left of the galaxy in the face of subjugation and dominion.  The book is a gargantuan 576 pages long, and when you take into account that this is the culmination of a 19-book series, it’s completely understandable.  James Luceno sticks to the script beautifully, providing a stimulating climax to the Vong conflict, winding down the post-conflict character development, and tying up all the loose ends.  This book is well-written, and a fitting end to an arduous series. Do you love rogue Jedi, kidnapped lovers, and first-person perspective?  I, Jedi is a stand-alone novel by author Michael Stackpole, featuring protagonist Corran Horn in his attempt to come to grips with his training as a Jedi as well as the abduction of his wife… by pirates!  A good chunk of this novel takes place in Luke Skywalker’s Jedi Academy, and the reader gets an in-depth and well-written glimpse into some of the methods behind Jedi teaching.  It’s obvious from the beginning that Luke is not the godsent hero of the day (sorry, Skywalker fans!) and Horn will come face to face with the inevitable choice between light and dark.  Stackpole definitely captures the attention with his decision to write Horn’s story from a first-person viewpoint, and personally I found the literal change in perspective refreshing.  Stackpole’s take on Jedi training is far from traditional; however, I feel the reader gets something new and unique from I, Jedi – definitely worth checking out! Now, I know Star Wars fans haven’t been completely satisfied with prequels over the years, and perhaps with good reason, but with this publication, Timothy Zahn provides a solid back story for his acclaimed Thrawn Trilogy.  Taking place before the Clone Wars, Outbound Flight sees familiar protagonists Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker take part in a discovery mission organized by Jedi Master Jorus C’baoth in an attempt to colonize unknown worlds.  Of course, the mission does not go according to specs, as both the machinations of Darth Sidious and a mysterious being known as “Thrawn” cause events to take a wildly uncertain turn.  For anyone familiar with the works of Timothy Zahn, more of the same should be expected; this is a fast-paced, compelling read, with excellent character development.  A worthy addition to the Star Wars collection. Rounding out the top half of our list, Shadows of the Empire gives the reader a look into the events that occur after The Empire Strikes Back and before Return of the Jedi.  In the course of the book, we are introduced to new characters and self-contained events that stand independent of the two films, but Steve Perry also takes the initiative, elucidating the reader concerning the giant gap in events leading up to the rescue of Han Solo.  Ever wonder how Leia found out about Jabba’s love-lair?  What was Luke doing during this time, and how did he get so skilled in the force?  Shadows of the Empire is a brave release, in that it dares to play around with characters that, through the films, have already been given established story arcs.  The author will always run the risk of developing a character in a direction that conflicts with established events or alienating Star Wars fans by having characters interact atypically.  That being said, it is a task that the author fulfils admirably, and Shadows of the Empire is a definite must-read for fans of the classic trilogy. “Two there should be; no more, no less. One to embody the power, the other to crave it.” In this title (the second instalment of the Darth Bane trilogy), Drew Karpyshyn expands on the nature of the Sith Lord – apprentice relationship.  The novel follows Darth Bane and his new apprentice Zannah in the aftermath of the Battle of Ruusan, and the destruction of a majority of the Sith forces.  It’s very character-focused, as opposed to many of the other books on this list, which definitely comes out as a positive characteristic, due to the skill with which the author explores the interpersonal relationships between those loyal to the dark side.  Instead of the usual focus on the inner turbulence facing the Jedi, Rule of Two explores further the inner workings of a Sith Lord, finding most satisfying subjects in Darth Bane and his apprentice Zannah.  That being said, the author still manages to create stimulating plot progression using new settings and intriguing event structures.  All in all, a very solid work and an excellent follow-up to Path of Destruction. What do you get when you cross an old-school horror movie with an Imperial Stormtrooper?  Death Troopers is a definite departure from the traditional Star Wars approach; it features much a more gritty narrative, and author Joe Schreiber has amped up the gore level tenfold.  As another stand alone novel, it features for the most part new and independent characters, though Han Solo and Chewbacca do make a cheeky cameo.  The author jumps right in, and the pace continues at breakneck speed throughout the entire novel.  This is not a publication for the traditional Star Wars fan; this is a rule-breaker, a shot of creativity into the genre in an attempt to demonstrate just how much room to breathe there is.  It’s likely that just as many will be alienated as charmed, if the idea of zombie Stormtroopers could ever be charming, but taking risks should never be discouraged when it comes to literature, and I feel this book just about pulls it off. “Can you imagine trying to face the fears of your own death knowing that your best friends were going to die because of you?” R.A. Salvatore is a recognized author with proven pedigree writing in the sci-fi/fantasy genres, so it should be no surprise that his contribution to the Star Wars universe should constitute a serious contender for the title of Best Star Wars Book.  Vector Prime is the first in the New Jedi Order saga, and it sparks the beginning of a major storyline with the introduction of the Yuuzhan Vong, an invading force that causes the New Republic to reassess the safeguards set in place to protect its so-called peace.  Salvatore has an exceptional talent to set up and manipulate story arcs, and he does not disappoint; Vector Prime is a thrilling read, and brings into the spotlight several less familiar, but nonetheless well-worked characters.  Heart-breakingly, the author also has the literary spine to contrive the death of one very familiar, hairy, unintelligible character – something relatively unprecedented in this particular saga.  I won’t say who it is, though.   Ah, Darth Bane, we meet again.  The first novel of the Darth Bane trilogy, Path of Destruction is our first glimpse into the life and times of one of the more compelling Dark Lords in the Star Wars universe.  We begin with Bane’s childhood, and the traumatic events that lead to his serious anger management issues.  Unlike Vader’s origins as Anakin, Bane was not a troubled Jedi lured to the dark side; this one was bad to the bone from the beginning, labelled one of the most powerful Sith ever to have lived.  Again, we see author Drew Karpyshyn’s stunning ability to create and mould absolutely absorbing characters, as Darth Bane and his young apprentice attempt to come to grips with their apparent fates.  Throughout the rest of the Star Wars universe, the Sith remain somewhat of an unexplored territory, at least in comparison to readers’ interactions with the Jedi.  In Path of Destruction, and the Darth Bane trilogy as a whole, the reader finally gets to interact with the dark side in a more intricate and in-depth manner, making it a very satisfying read for those with certain… dark tastes. "History is on the move, Captain. Those who cannot keep up will be left behind, to watch from a distance. And those who stand in our way will not watch at all." The top spot in our review goes not to one title, but three.  Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy is widely accredited as being responsible for the re-invigoration of the Star Wars universe.  Taking place 5 years after Return of the Jedi, the first book in the trilogy, Heir to the Empire, tells of a galaxy adjusting to the destruction of the Death Star, the death of Emperor Palpatine, the creation of the New Republic, and the impending birth of Leia and Han Solo’s twin children. The main conflict throughout the series is between the forces of the New Republic, aided by the newly reformed Jedi Knights, and the remnants of the old Empire mustered under its elite remaining Warlord and bolstered by an insane evil Jedi-clone.  Grand Admiral Thrawn is a cold, calculating military genius that provides a different challenge for the New Republic to deal with, in contrast to the raw and manic Sith Lords. The author stokes the fires using clever plot devices and intriguing complementary characters best described as ‘morally grey’, skilfully bringing the pot to boil in The Last Command.  What makes Zahn’s trilogy unquestionably the most outstanding work on the list is the fact that he manages to create several new and compelling characters that interact in and around an equally compelling plot, all while maintaining the familiar Star Wars feel.  Highly recommended for all old-school or would-be Star Wars fans, the Thrawn Trilogy deservedly takes its place at the top of the list of Top 10 Best Star Wars... Read more →