A Change in Emphasis

emphasisI’ve been reviewing for over 7 years now. A figure which I find a little scary. First it was only on Amazon, but since 2012, it’s been here on my blog. I suppose I do it for brain exercise. As a stay at home dad cerebral challenges can be hard to come by. Writing reviews means I have to think that little bit more deeply about what I’m reading, and then try to come up with an interesting and entertaining way to convey my thoughts to you the reader. Having done it for so long it’s clear that I enjoy it, so much so that this year I decided to take things a little further by joining the team at GeekDad.

This is a smallish commitment, but it has had a knock on effect on how much time I have to write for my own blog. More unexpectedly it’s altered the way I feel about what I post here. In days gone by, I saw it as slavish chronicle of things I’d read. The occasional book did go by unreviewed, but by and large if I read it, I wrote what I thought about it – whether it were good, bad or mediocre. It may be coincidence, but since joining GeekDad, I’ve had no wish to write about books I’ve read that I found average. By not writing about them in depth, I have more reading time and more time to find the next book to rave about. It will also free up time to write some non-book related posts of GeekDad, starting with this post about in-app purchases.

This will inevitably cause a shift in emphasis in the blog, from books I’ve read to books that provoked a strong reaction. Most reviews will be positive, (which they already are) but I still want to leave the occasional post for books I’ve hated; they’re the most fun reviews to write. I suspect, I may do the odd mediocre wash-up post, just so the world knows, I am still reading…

elizabethThe three books I read recently that didn’t do anything for me were, The Invisible Library, The A-Z of Me and You, and more surprisingly, 2014 Costa prize winner Elizabeth is Missing. A debut novel, Elizabeth is Missing is brilliantly written. The sense of confusion and fear generated by the slide into dementia is portrayed almost perfectly. It makes heart-rending read, depicting the plight of both victims and their loved ones. The examination of the cruel work of Alzheimer’s is deeply affecting. Despite this, I found its central story slight, with some of the novel’s events being too convenient. The mystery at the novel’s heart, isn’t that mysterious. The whole time I was thinking, ‘this is impressive but there’s something missing’.

The Invisible Library, is a steampunk novel, with a labyrinthine multi-dimensional library at its heart. Similar in premise to books I love, such as The Grimm Legacy, and Libriomainvisible librarncer, it is but a shadow of both. The problem I think is that world feels neither real nor fantastic enough. It comes across as a facsimile of too many other similar books. There is no sense we are in a reimagined world, nor in the real world with fantasy elements. It seemed to hover between both, like Schrodinger’s cat. Most of this is down to terrible dialogue. Everybody talks in the same way, rarely sounding like their character should. I kept losing track of who was who. There was no distinctive voice, making the whole book feel beige. This was a shame, as there were some really nice bits in there. I kept waiting for it to burst into life, but I was disappointed.

a-zThe A-Z of You and Me, is a cynical a tear-jerker as you’ll ever read. It fits neatly into the mould of current popular books, having a terminally ill narrator (like The Fault in Our Stars) and a clever story telling gimmick, in this case the central character’s life story told through body parts A to Z. Perhaps I have been reading too many of these books, leaving me jaded but I found this lacked the wit and emotional resonance of Fault in Our Starts or The Universe Versus Alex WoodsIt’s well written, but I think overly gloomy, with just about everybody in the central character’s life having died.

It states in the blurb, the story about making the the wrong choices, but this isn’t strictly true. It’s more about not making any choices. Ploughing on down the same rotten path regardless. This is a pretty accurate depiction of the way many people lead their lives. The novel is by no means all bad, I just struggled to find empathy with many of the lead characters. The author is quoted in the blurb as being a Beckettian scholar, which may explain my apathy. I don’t know enough about Beckett to know if the writing structure played homage. I feel like the ending probably did, but as my only encounter with Beckett was a fifteen year old, being flummoxed by Godot, I’m not in any position to comment.

So, three books that felt flat as I enter a new period of blogging excitement. Later this week, I have a rare Q&A with author Christopher Fowler (rare for me to take part in blog tours, rather than an reclusive author exclusive!),  followed by a review of his latest book on Friday. This marks a long overdue return to one of my favourite crime series, ‘Bryant and May’. It was like catching up with old friends.

Thanks to the folks at Macmillan and Transworld for sending me the books I’ve grumbled in this post.  



Officially a GeekDad

cropped-logo-geekdadLast week, I was offered a chance to become an ‘occasional contributor’ to the GeedDad, website. GeekDad is a glorious mish-mash of life-as-parents, games, books and shiny technology. I’ve been following GeekDad for around a year, and have been led to all sorts of interesting things as result.

Just before Christmas, they asked on their site for new contributors, and seeing as nothing ventured is nothing gained I applied. I was accepted and taken on in the second wave of new contributors. Suddenly I felt like a very small fish in a big pond. GeekDad gets more visitors most hours than I’ve had altogether, ever. Also my geek credentials suddenly felt rather lacking. On the school-yard, I’m the grandmaster geek; just knowing that something called a D20 exists, is enough to make me that. Now I’m privy to whole computing conversations I barely understand!

Last night I submitted my first post. It was unsurprisingly a book review. A wonderful children’s book, called The Wonder by Faye Hanson. There’s probably a better way of doing it but if you want to read the review, click here.

Hopefully it’s the first of many. I have a few ideas, I suspect I shall predominantly write book reviews but it will be nice to try some different things too.

the wonder

Future planning: 2015, resolutions and what not.


It’s 2015. Set geek levels to 11

Let me start by wishing you a happy 2015. It’s that time for New Year’s resolutions, one of the few times I take stock of what I’m doing and try to think about what I might like to do. You’re reading this now as a result of resolutions past.

To welcome 2008 I decided to start reviewing on Amazon and in 2012 I thought I’d join Twitter, where I discovered lots of lovely people talking and writing about books. And so this blog was born. To be honest until now it has been little more than just a cross posting of my Amazon reviews, but this year, I’d like to change that.

First I need to do something about the name and the URL, I set them up knowing almost nothing about what I was doing, so they’re a bit pants. I’ve been meaning to change everything to ‘Robins Books’ for ages maybe this year I’ll get around to it.

I also want to extend the scope of the blog. I’d like to include more children’s fiction. I have three boys who love books (they have little choice in this!) and I have shared lots of great books with them over the years, and I’d like to bring our favourites to the attention of as many people as possible.

Next I’d to cover some of the geekier aspects of my life. I started following Geek Dad during 2014 and found myself dipping in and out almost compulsively. So much so, I even applied to write for them during their recent request for fresh contributors. Regardless of how this goes, game-playing and science stuff are a regular feature of life in the Brooks household and I’d like share that too. Over the festive period we’ve discovered some great family games, made by small independent game makers. I’d like to highlight them, even if only in a small way.

I’d like to read more in 2015. So many great looking books fall by the wayside and I feel my reading narrowed in 2014. I also want to spend more time reading other people’s blogs and interact more on Twitter. Lots of great stuff rushes by me, and if I read it, I rarely have time to comment. Sometimes I feel like a twitcher in the bushes, looking in at the brilliant lighted living rooms of some excellent literary bloggers.

Writing some of my own original fiction has been a half-hearted dream for over ten years. I have no idea whether I’m any good at it, but unless I try to put something down on paper I’ll never know. There are some ideas burning their way out of my brain and I hope this year is the one where I can give them some shape.

Of course I’m going to have to find time for all this stuff. My youngest son will start pre-school for a whopping five hours a week, but this is hardly going to change my life. I also want to eat less, move more and (incongruously) watch more film and TV. I’ve still not watched a single episode of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones and frankly that just seems wrong. I also want to learn how to solve the Rubix cube.

There isn’t going to be a great deal of time to do these things, after all I have a wife and would like to keep her. One thing that will have to be cut down is editing time. Despite the number of heinous mutilations of the English language that appear on the blog (mainly due to my random comma insertion syndrome), I spend a large amount of time reading and rereading my posts, before publishing them. This may have to change, so I apologise in advance.

I do hope you’ll keep following, reading and hopefully commenting. I hope I can lead you to some books (and games) you otherwise may never have discovered. I have no idea how many of my resolutions I’ll manage to keep, but I’ve managed to publish this post, which I guessed I probably wouldn’t. It’s a start.

My New Blog

Nobody could ever accuse me of being an earlier adopter, so here, at least five years after everybody else, is my blog.  I’ve been reviewing books on Amazon since 2008, and enjoying it immensely.  It’s great to recommend a book you love, or slate one you hate.  There’s also something rather satisfying about getting those ‘helpful’ votes, knowing that somebody has been inspired to read (or not to read) a book after consulting your review.  Recently I have become addicted to Twitter (again arriving late at the party).  What I have enjoyed most about Twitter, is discovering many like minded people, who have created and maintained wonderful blogs about stuff I’m interested in.  Inspired, I have decided to attempt the same.

Now, the way this usually works, is that I’ll beaver away at it for a few weeks, post five comments then find something else to do (like having a third son).  Only time will tell I managed to remain interested in this blog, but it probably rests on how long I’m talking to myself for.  The plan is to review the books I’ve read, but occasionally I might post pieces of my own writing.  I harbour dreams of one day being published, but can normally find many ways of avoiding ever putting pen to paper (such as reviewing books or starting a blog).  I am also a stay at home dad, with two boys, and another on the way, so there may be the odd observation on how my sanity is slowly trickling away through my ears.

So enough of this, let’s get started – Err now what do I do?