February 2014 book reviews

These book reviews are part of an annual series where I read a book a month and then report on what they were like. It’s all part of achieving my goal of reading one book a week in 2014. You can check out my list of goals for the year here.

My February book reviews are a bit of a mixed bag. Unlike last month, where I read a standout book, this past month was a bit more ‘meh.

We were travelling a lot on buses which is when I seem to get more of my reading done because it’s too bumpy to write or type on the computer.

At the moment we’re working hard in the beautiful town of Arequipa in Peru and between sightseeing and sitting at my desk in the hotel, I’m not getting much reading done. But I promise I’ll have another four books for you next month – if I can do it in the short month of February surely I can do it in the longer month of March!

The Cuckoo’s Calling by J. K. Rowling

The Cuckoo's Calling by J K Rowling Double-Barrelled Travel

Plot

A murder mystery set in modern day London, a private detective is hired by a grieving brother to investigate his sister’s suicide which he believes is murder. Before her death, the sister was a famous model and the brother believes someone was after her fortune.

Thoughts

Written by J. K. Rowling and released under a pseudonym, it’s nothing like Harry Potter – it has none of the magic. Although an interesting storyline, the book is rather ordinary. However, I like the way it puts fame under the microscope and rather than make it look like a glamorous profession, portrays it as a constant invasion of privacy that it really is.

The twist at the end was rather silly and made it feel as though J. K. Rowling was clutching at straws. I liked the detective character though, he felt like the most believable of the lot and his unfortunate and somewhat messed up life made you feel sympathetic towards him.

After living in London for nearly five years, I also cracked a few smiles when the book described its streets to a tee – especially when it talked about pubs I’ve sat in before!

Rating

2.5 / 5

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau

The art of non conformity by Chris Guillebeau Double-Barrelled Travel

Plot

Written by Chris Guillebeau, the same author who wrote The $100 Startup, this book is all about living an unconventional life. And by not conforming to the typical ‘get marries, buy house, have kids’ routine, Chris talks about having your own business that allows you to work from any where in the world, giving you the freedom to travel.

Thoughts

Although inspiring, the book doesn’t discuss in great detail about how to leave the regular 9 – 5 routine behind but rather talks about what a life of travel while working is like and the obstacles you’ll face. There’s a lot of information on how others won’t agree with your lifestyle, will put you down about it and even say it’s impossible. A lot of the book is dedicated to this which I thought was a bit naff.

Compared to The $100 Startup, this book is certainly inferior and it felt as though hardly any research went into it, aside from pulling an inspirational quote from an explorer here and there.

However, I did like the way Chris emphasises giving back to either charities or communities in some way, and talking about how it’s important to do this as an entrepreneur.

Rating

2/5

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

The Orphan Masters son by Adam Johnson Double-Barrelled Travel

Plot

A dark book showing what it’s like to live in North Korea. The story follows an orphan who is placed on a fishing boat to spy – via radio – on American vessels. He also works as a kidnapper of foreigners before being thrown into a mining labor camp. He kills a government official and then assumes his life. I won’t spoil the ending but it’s interesting.

Thoughts

Adam Johnson, an American author, thoroughly did his research and spent years interviewing people who were from North Korea to make the book as authentic as possible. He also made a couple of trips to the country and although it was forbidden for locals to talk to any foreigners, he captures the fear amongst the citizens and the control of the government very realistically.

Parts of the book really turned my stomach, like when the characters are starving in a working camp and so they masturbate an ox to drink its sperm. Or the sections of the book on torture, such as when the interrogators give their victims lobotomies with rusty nails.

The fact that all of the stories are based on truth make it all the more frightening and horrific.

Rating

4/5

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman Double-Barrelled Travel

Plot

Written in the voice of an 11 year old boy, Pigeon English follows the story of a stabbing murder on a London council estate and the boy’s efforts to find out who did it.

A recent immigrant from Uganda, the books shows the ways in which the boy’s mother tries to protect her children from the illegal means of which they managed to enter the country.

Thoughts

This book really shows what it’s live to grow up in poverty-stricken London and how youth are forced to become adults quickly with the crime of the estates around them.It highlights the senseless stabbing murders carried out by teenagers in gangs around the city in recent years.

I found Stephen’s portrayal of an 11 year old boy very believable – it was like you’d stepped inside his head and some of his childish humour brough light to the book and made me giggle at times. I thought the ending was a bit of a cop out and simply the easiest route for the author to take.

I did like the odd paragraph told by the pigeon the boy loved and wanted as a pet though.

Rating

3.5/5

What books did you read this month and what were they like?

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About the author

Carmen has been nomadic since May 2013 and the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel. She loves experiencing new cultures and learning new languages. She is having the most fun when skiing down a mountain, scuba diving in the Caribbean or curled up with a good book.

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