The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith: 52 in 52 Book #34

The Kalahari Typing School for Men

Now I do enjoy The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series but somehow I feel a bit let-down by this installment. The cases in this particular book didn’t grip me as much as in previous books and I actually managed to read another novel in the time it took me to finish this one.

The character development in this book seemed a little haphazard. There are things going on with Mma Ramotswe’s and J.L.B Maketoni’s foster children which are mentioned earlier in the book but the resolution seems rushed and hardly a resolution at all. There’s little mention of J.L.B Maketoni’s depression from the previous book either. It’s almost as if the author forgot where he was going with these characters and so put in some half-hearted non-developments to tide him over. The only character who actually has substantial and exciting character development is Mma Makutsi, who opens her own business, the eponymous typing school, and sees developments in her love life.

Even the descriptions and African feel seem to have suffered. In previous books I’ve been able to vividly imagine the surroundings and characters as the story unfolds. I can smell the dust, feel the heat and see the baked but beautiful scenery normally but for this book I just couldn’t. The imagery was there but the immersion wasn’t.

I’m saddened a little by this installment but I have hope that the next installment, The Full Cupboard of Life, will return the series to normal form. I’ll get back to you when I’ve read it.

Kat

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The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen: 52 in 52 Book #33

The Bone Garden

As you may have noticed, I have become slightly addicted to the works of Tess Gerritsen (an addiction I thoroughly endorse!). Her Rizzoli & Isles books have kept me entertained for a few weeks now and whilst waiting for the next few to arrive I decided to try one of her stand-alone novels: The Bone Garden.

Split between the present day and 1830s Boston, the two plotlines weave into one another very well. In the present day you have Julia Hamill, recently divorced, who discovers a skeleton in the garden of the house she’s just moved into. Wanting to know more, she teams up with the 89-year-old Henry Page, descendent of the original owner of the house, to find out who this skeleton was and learn more about the house she has moved into. Margaret Tate Page, the original owner and Henry’s ancestor, is the link between the two plotlines.

Following Margaret’s birth and the death of her mother to childbed fever, the 1830s section of the story follows Rose Connolly, Margaret’s aunt, and Norris Marshall, a medical student at Boston’s Medical College. These two characters are thrown together after discovering the body of the first victim of the West End Reaper. As the Reaper continues to kill and suspicion falls upon both Rose and Norris, the pair have to discover the truth and protect themselves and Margaret from a hidden and sinister threat.

I found both sides of the story gripping and the way it was told was superb. Every time I thought I knew what would happen next, something else happened entirely. I loved the contrast between the events of the 1830s and how they affected the characters in the present day. Another wonderful inclusion was the character Oliver Wendell Holmes (Senior), who attended the Boston Medical College in real life back in the 1830s and made significant contributions to the medical field. I actually went and read more about this man because this book sparked my interest.

I would say this book is not just for crime and detective novel fans but also ones who enjoy historical fiction. From my post-book research I have come to appreciate the level of detail and historical accuracy portrayed in the book and feel it makes it more engaging to nerdy people like me. Do give it a go; it was good enough to make me cry!

Kat

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The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen: 52 in 52 Book #32

The Sinner

As I’m sure you all expected, I’ve managed to read another Tess Gerritsen novel. The Sinner is the third book in the Rizzoli & Isles series and, as the plot no longer references The Surgeon, it makes for a fresh and stimulating new plot to get your teeth into.

After the homicide of a nun in a chapel, Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr Maura Isles go out in search of the culprit. In an intriguing and twisting investigation that includes babies, ex-husbands, India and cover-ups. You see a lot more of Maura than in the previous books and she interacts with Jane a lot more closely. It’s great to see the beginnings of a brilliant working and, I suspect, personal relationship between these two women.

It is a fact that I do like strong female characters to read about, but believable ones. I think Tess Gerritsen does a great job of developing not just one but two amazing female leads. Throughout the book we see a side of Jane Rizzoli that wasn’t present in the previous novels and we see the chinks in her armour more clearly. However, this enhances how much of a tough and determined woman she is but allows the reader to get closer to her and empathise with her. Maura’s past and insecurities are also brought to light in this novel and I love how Tess has managed to contrast her so well with Jane: whilst Jane is resilient, tomboyish and doesn’t take any rubbish, Maura is fashionable, more feminine but still maintains an air about her that others may find intimidating.

Whilst this book isn’t nearly as graphic as the previous two, it does brilliantly detail the deaths and autopsies. The description is still superb and I think that whilst the personal development of the characters took more precedence I this book, this in no way detracts from the way the investigation and victims are portrayed.

I would say these books are great but read them in order. The friend who got me into this series hasn’t read them in order and actually hasn’t read this particular book either. I feel you get a better sense of the characters and how they grow if you read them in order but this book could stand alone if you’re not bothered by such things. Highly recommend.

Kat

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Robot Wars Live – Glow at Bluewater, Dartford, Kent

In 2004, part of my childhood died. Such an inspiring opening… I was furious at the decision made to take Robot Wars off the air. Robot Wars was bordering on ‘unhealthy obsession’ ten years ago. All my pocket money was spent on the pullback replica robots; I watched the show live twice and fully decorated my room with yellow and black warning stripes and posters. Robot Wars was a huge part of my life. What hasn’t changed is that it still is…

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Every Friday evening was the same. BBC Two would go on at six in the evening for The Simpsons. That was followed by fifteen minutes of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and was finally topped off by three-quarters of an hour of recycled appliances with minds of their own go at each other with ferocity of force 9 hurricane. The house robots Sergeant Bash, Matilda, Shunt, Sir Killalot, Dead Metal, Mr Psycho and Growler would patrol the battle arena as homemade robots tore each other to bits. It was superb, bloodthirsty, relentless and fantastic! I remember watching Hypno-Disc – A shiny machine with a huge flywheel – annihilate the weak armour of the lesser Stealth. I remember Chaos 2 effortlessly throw competitors around and out of the arena with its powerful flipper. I remember the elegant Razer finish off Bigger Brother in the series 5 final. Then after 6 Championships, 2 series of Extreme, various special events and World Championships, the BBC sold the rights to Channel 5. This was not a wise move. It was still Robot Wars been but the majority of the bigger names had gone, Phillipa Forrester had been replaced by Jayne Middlemiss and some of the finesse seemed to have been lost. But, it kept me happy. Jonathan Pierce still commentated on the brutalities with glee and Craig Charles still fronted the show; a new house robot had been included in the roster – Cassius Chrome – and it now ran for an hour. And then it didn’t. After one series on Channel 5, it was cancelled. Don’t think is a nostalgic post about how much I miss Robot Wars because it isn’t. Robot Wars is still alive, kicking and screaming and last month, I got the chance to go see and relive the robo-carnage all over again!

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The rights to Robot Wars lie within Roaming Robots – a company that is responsible for putting on live shows and workshops for the general public. Bluewater’s Glow was big enough for the new arena. All the hazards were there; the pit, the floor flipper, flames and a new, bespoke house robot – Major Damage. It retained all of its appeal. This was proper Robot Wars with and underground edge. It did not disappoint.

Let the wars begin...

Let the wars begin…

The auditorium was full and the lights dimmed when the countdown reached 00:00:00; the arena was set for the opening exhibition battle; the robots were waiting. The famous “3… 2… 1… ACTIVATE” bellowed out of the sound system and the warriors attacked. There was no holding back as robots flew through air, smashing and crashing into one another. Flames rose out of the floor and the audience cheered as metal slammed against metal. It was exactly how I remembered. These competitors were as persistent as ever; fighting back, unaffected by their short fly or harsh crash. 3 minutes on “CEASE” was called and the calm returned.

Don't mention the words 'Wheely, Big or Cheese' near Axe Awe...

Don’t mention the words ‘Wheely, Big or Cheese’ near Axe Awe…

The show featured an array of battles from the heavyweights which included Eruption with a stupidly powerful pneumatic flipper; the unique double flippers of Maelstrom; the sword wielding Saint and the German Luzifer. Not only that but previous all-stars Behemoth and fellow Lincolner, Stinger graced the arena to show their power and prowess to prove that they are still as destructive as they ever were made me smile. A melee of featherweights then entered the arena with the original Matilda. Watching tiny robots destroy each other with the savagery of the big boys was just as entertaining. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I felt like a kid again; like Robot Wars had never gone. There was an air of pantomime behind it all that made it feel more engaging and the two presenters did a fantastic job of warming up the audience for every battle.  Shouting ‘eezzay, eezzay, eezzay’ across the auditorium to the other half of the crowd every time our side won a battle was just good fun, just like what it was when I was part of the audience when it was being filmed. Having R2D2 come out in the interval was a nice surprise too although, having R2D2 fight Major Damage would have been a better surprise, but that’s just me.

Major Damage eats Pepper Pigs for breakfast

Major Damage eats Pepper Pigs for breakfast

It was immense fun and for £16 a standard ticket (or £26 for a VIP ticket which includes a tour of the pits and the arena), a cheap thrill too. I have missed Robot Wars a lot since it was cancelled (to the point of being unable to function in day-to-day life) but what these people do setting up events that travel the country and the globe is not only phenomenal but inspiring and exciting all at once. Seeing people in the audience who had grown up with Robot Wars was fulfilling. Every seat in the house was sold that night. This shows that robot combat is a popular as ever and having the event organiser come out and asking whether we wanted the show back on TV to hear the tremendous chorus of yells and screams in agreement makes me believe that one day, Robot Wars will return. Maybe not the same as what it was but as long as there are people building these machines, there will always be people there to watch them wreck it up.

Words can't describe how overjoyed I was to see Stinger alive and fighting

Words can’t describe how overjoyed I was to see Stinger alive and fighting

I have no doubt that there is something for everyone. There’s just something about watching things get demolished; it’s the main reason why demolition derbies are so popular. This ticks all the boxes; it’s entertaining, it’s cheap, it brings in the crowds and it gives you that bit of nostalgia from the late 90’s and early 00’s that I and a lot of people miss. Robot Wars never went. But, in whatever form, I’m glad to see it is not disappearing without a fight – it seems it’s here to stay

CEASE

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Words by Jimmi

Check out the Robot Wars website for information, tickets and videos

Follow Robot Wars on Twitter @Robot__Wars

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Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith: 52 in 52 Book #31

Morality for Beautiful Girls

Number three in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, this book continues the story of Mma Ramotswe and her private investigation business. Like in previous instalments, there are several cases mixed in with personal developments of the main characters. The essence of Botswana and its people is there in abundance and the descriptive passages are of the same high standard as before.

The cases in this instalment I felt were much improved from Tears of the Giraffe. Poisoning, a wild child and the titular morality of girls in a beauty contest make the investigations varied and interesting. It is also nice to see assistant detective Mma Makutsi taking on a more challenging case and the differences between her detective style and Mma Ramotswe’s.

Mma Makutsi isn’t just taking on tougher cases. As J.L.B Maketoni, Mma Ramotswe’s fiancé, becomes ill with depression, she takes over the running of his garage and also mans the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency single handed for a while. Whilst this might seem to be a lot of growth for one character, it is done in such a way that it feels very natural and Mma Makutsi’s style of management suits her character to a tee.

The reader also gets to see how Mma Ramotswe’s and J.L.B Maketoni’s foster children are settling into their new lives. There are some heart-warming scenes involving the children and although they don’t feature prominently, they are a lovely addition to the long-term narrative. I look forward to seeing more of them later in the series and watching them grow up.

As always with this series, if your interest is in Africa or detective novels (or both) then give this series a try. I do recommend reading the books in order though.

Kat

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The Apprentice by Tess Gerritsen: 52 in 52 Book #30

The Apprentice

Upon finishing Tess Gerritsen’s novel The Surgeon, I immediately went online and ordered the sequel: The Apprentice. After waiting a few days for delivery and then a few more as we had a guest over, I got around to reading it…. and finished it less than 24hrs later. I love it when a book grabs me by the mind and doesn’t stop wringing it like a flannel until I’m finished!

Following on a year later from the events of The Surgeon, Detective Jane Rizzoli and the rest of Boston PD homicide unit investigate the antics of another serial killer, who is eventually nicknamed…. The Dominator (bet you didn’t see that one coming). This particular killer has a penchant for necrophilic activities. Thankfully, this book was not nearly as gory as the last one, or at least I have now acclimatised myself to it, but the events are described in juicy and tantalising detail which really helps paint the storyline well.

Also in this book Dr Maura Isles, the latter partner of the Rizzoli & Isles duo, is introduced. The Queen of Death, as she is dubbed, presents a rather glamorous contrast to the tomboyish detective. She’s the medical examiner and conducts most of the autopsies in this book. Although she doesn’t star heavily in this novel, I really liked her character and look forward to reading more about her in the future.

Character development and plot continuation in this novel were excellent. Unlike in many crime series I have read, Rizzoli is shown to be genuinely affected by past events and developments in the story show how she has changed in the year since the Surgeon was locked up. There are also scenes that show a much softer side which allow the reader to see her as more of a human being than an angry, trodden-down-female robot. Other characters also show good plot continuation, although this is rather more diminished than Rizzoli’s.

And as I bring this review to a close, I am already loading up online bookstores to search for my copy of the next instalment The Sinner. I initially was sceptical of this series when it was recommended to me; I couldn’t have been more wrong. If crime novels are your thing, get yourself copies of these books. You won’t regret it.

 

Kat

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Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith: 52 in 52 Book #29

Tears of the Giraffe

Way back in January I kick-started this challenge by reading The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. Now, nine months later, I have gotten round to reading the second instalment of the series.

Just like its predecessor, this book is infused with the essence of Africa. From the behaviour of the characters, the descriptions of the land and the traditions, it leaps out of every page: you can almost smell the red dust! This is what I loved about the original book and I’m glad to see the sequel has not lost anything of its African charm. It makes me ache to get back out to Africa and explore the continent some more.

The character development is great too. Now Mma Ramotswe is engaged, we see more of her fiancé and of the new additions to her family. It doesn’t feel forced or rushed and these developments are so charmingly written they put you at ease. Also Mma Makutsi, the secretary for the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency is given a promotion to assistant detective which provides a new character and plotline to follow.

However, as good as they were, I did feel the actual cases in this book were not as intriguing as the first book. Possibly they suffered as a result of the fantastic character development but I felt they lacked some of the suspense of the last book and at various points I completely forgot about what was supposed to be being investigated. They were still interesting and heart-warming but alongside the other plotlines they almost faded into the background. I hope in the next instalment, Morality for Beautiful Girls, the cases will make a comeback and fill me with anticipation and suspense.

If you read and enjoyed The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, you’ll enjoy this book. For anyone who loves Africa or detective novels, this series is a must read.

Kat

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