Sunday, December 27, 2009

That's Another Story by Julie Walters

Reading this autobiography it felt like Julie Walters was actually talking to me and I could hear her voice and laugh in my head as she relates tales from her rise to fame. However Julie Walters has only written an autobiography about her public persona, apart from her childhood reminisinces there is nothing about her private life, which makes it lacking autobiographically and certainly left me feeling more than a little disappointed. I wanted to learn more about the Julie Walters we do not know. It also only takes us to the birth of her daughter so maybe she will write a sequel later that will let us know a little more about Julie the private person rather than just about Julie the actresss.

Her childhood and adolscence in fifties Birmingham is an amusing picture of her life growing up with two elder brothers, attending the local convent and where her love of entertaining others first developed. Her stardom and fame is actually covered in far less detail than her childhood and it would have been interesting to read more background details about her various well known performances. She has played so many unforgettable characters over the years.However with such a career and cast of characters to her name it would have become a very large volume indeed.

A warm and entertaining memoir worth reading and I do not think any fan of Julie Walters will be disappointed but I do think you will be left feeling there is still a lot more to learn about the real woman behind the actresss.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Island by Victoria Hislop

Click to view large image of cover in new window...This is yet another novel that languished on my bookshelves waiting to be read for far too long.  A fictional story of a families ties to a real life setting.

Sofia and her daughter Alexis are not the heroines of this book as the blurb on the cover might lead you to believe but the descendants of this mother and daughter most certainly are the real protagonists.  Sofia had always felt humiliated by her past and kept it hidden from her husband and children for many years. It is only after Alexis expresses an interest in visiting Crete where her mother was born that Sofia has the chance to heal the wounds and perceive her ancestry in a totally different light.
The main bulk of the novel is the story of these ancestors as related by a friend from the past, Fotini.  It is an absorbing story of a family torn apart by tragedy, the root of which is mainly caused by leprosy.

I now feel I understand a little more about the stigma of Leprosy which sadly is a continuing problem in the 21st Century in developing countries.
I thoroughly enjoyed this as it has much more depth to it than the average romantic novel.  It has also made me interested in visiting Crete, especially, Plaka  Elounda , Agios Nikolaos  and the island of  Spinalonga itself.

Main entrance

Entrance from the sea to the island of Spinalonga

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud by Ben Sherwood

Click to view large image of cover in new window...One of my favourite books amongst those I have read this year. I wish I had got hold of a copy years ago. Death is a fact of life, as inevitable as night follows day, death follows birth. Whatever ones religious beliefs death is a subject I am sure we all prefer not to think about too often. This novel will certainly make you think about death and what may be waiting for us.
As with ‘The Lovely Bones,’ ‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’ and ‘The Angels of 9/11’ I found this a spiritually uplifting story about the afterlife. It certainly gives you plenty to think about, the following is a quote from the novel that I particularly like.
‘We all shine on. You just have to release your hearts, alert your senses and pay attention.
A leaf, a star, a song, a laugh. Notice the little things, because somebody is reaching out to you.’

Thirteen years before the story takes place Charlie and Sam St Cloud are involved in a serious car crash, that results in the death of the younger brother Sam and a near death experience for Charlie himself. Unable to cope with his grief and the broken promises made to his brother, ever since that fatal crash Charlie has worked in the cemetery where his brother is buried so as to remain near him.
Charlie’s strange and sad lifestyle is turned upside down when in the graveyard he meets Tess Carroll a young woman he finds he has strong feelings for.
This is a story of love that will remain with you for ever and I will certainly be looking forward to the film becoming available here in Italy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale

Product DetailsThe true story set in 1860 Victorian England of murder committed in a country house which at the time was talked about all over the world. Kate Summerscale has written a well researched account on how this brutal child murder appears to have fuelled the birth of detective fiction.

One night in the summer of 1860 in a large Georgian village house in Road, Wiltshire a horrendous murder is committed. The family wake the next morning to discover that one of the children is missing from his bed, worse follows the child is found dead on the property and all evidence seems to point to the fact that the murderer lived on the premises.
The murder creates a lot of national public interest and within a few weeks London detectives have been called in to help solve this dreadful case, where the grieving household members are seen as the main suspects.
The man summoned to Wiltshire to solve the crime is a member of London’ s first  official investigation squad at Scotland Yard was Jack Whicher. He was already a well known public figure but the case of Saville Kent’s murder seemed to be the beginning of the end for his career.  With the case still unresolved by the beginning of 1861 enquiries had began to peter out and for several months Whicher withdrew from the public eye, only working on cases that were unlikely to attract the newspapers and therefore the publics attention.  It was claimed at that time by a work colleague of Whicher’s that the Road Hill murder had undone ‘the best man the Detective department ever possessed’. In fact by March 1864 at the age of 49 he was pensioned off from the Metropolitan Police for reasons of ill health. His discharge papers quoted the reason as ‘congestion of the brain’ which in modern days we would probably refer to as stress, undoubtedly caused by the unsolved puzzle of the Road Hill Murder. In fact this unsolved crime probably worried him for the rest of his life as less when he died in 1881 it was from a perforated stomach ulcer. For a man that was once seen as a brilliant detective he was by then almost forgotten with just a very short obituary in the Police Gazette. He lost his hero status in the eyes of the public when he was unable to say with any certainty who it was carried out the murder of Savill Kent.

An interesting read especially as it is thought that this case was the one that helped mould the format of the detective fiction novel. In fact it is thought that Sergeant Cuff from the novel ‘The Moonstone’ by Wilkie Collins was based on Detective Inspector Whicher himself.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Distance Between Us by Maggie O'Farrell

Click to view large image of cover in new window...This is the third novel I have read by Maggie O’Farrell and I find her novels easy reading but nothing spectacular. I enjoyed this more than ‘My Lover’s Lover’ and about the same as ‘After You’d Gone.’  ‘The Distance Between Us’ is a love story full of complex relationships and lots of pain.

At the start of the novel the protagonists Stella Gilmore and Jake Kildoune do not even know of the existence of the other. Of course it is obvious to the reader that they will meet eventually.  First we are told the two linking stories separately as Stella and Jake move geographically closer together as they desperately try to find themselves and each other amidst the confusion of their complicated lives. Stella finds her London life disturbing her so much that she runs away to Scotland, to somewhere only her sister Nina, to whom she is really close, will understand the significance of.  Meanwhile Jake suffers a terrifying experience in Hong Kong which results in him finding himself married and in the UK with an invalid wife that he doesn’t love!  He runs away in search of the father he never knew, yes in you guessed Scotland.  I thought the title was a clever use of words as to me it sums up the void in the intense relationship between Jake and Stella, there was so much they had to discover about each other.

In general if you enjoy a novel with a large cast of characters and can cope with the style of jumping around in time and place then this is worth reading.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Size Matters by Judy Astley

Click to view large image of cover in new window...Judy Astley is an author I have been reading since she published her first novel in 1994. They are generally an enjoyable light romance/ chick lit type novel, nothing brain stretching but usually fun.
This one made me laugh but I think it is far from the best of her novels.
 The protagonist Jay works her way through a selection of diet options whilst awaiting the imminent return of her cousin Delphine from Australia. Jay lives in a chaotic household with her husband three children and almost son in law. She owns together with a friend, a successful cleaning company.
Jay has always been envious of Delphine, not just her thinness but the fact that she was the indulged daughter who had everything she could ever want as a child. Having lived in Australia for many years Delphine is returning to the UK to marry her third husband. It is the imminent return of her perfect cousin that makes Jay decide that she will diet and become more like her, well organised and most importantly thin!  She tries them all High Carb, No Protein,High Protein, No Carb, High Fibre, Wheat Free, Fat Free, Grapefruit, Atkins, Conley and so on, with a variety of successes and failures.
This novel might not have much going for it as a story but what it does provide is well written humour.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Memory Garden by Rachel Hore

Click to view large image of cover in new window...
The lives of two women, Melanie Pentrath and Pearl Treglown , born in different centuries and the interweaving of their stories as they face similar challenges.
Melanie retreats to Cornwall on a sabbatical to write a book about painters from the region. She hopes that being there will help heal a broken heart.
A garden that holds clues to the past helps Mel and her landlord Patrick learn the secrets of Merryn Hall and the story of Pearl.

This is a light romantic read and although the story is similar in many ways to the style of Kate Morton’s novels it is in my opinion not written in the same literary vein and therefore I do not think destined to become a literary classic.
Nevertheless it is well worth reading if you do not expect more than just an enjoyable read. Rachel Hore’s atmospheric descriptions of Cornwall and the garden at Merryn Hall are excellent and actually much stronger than the plot itself which might be considered rather weak if you were expecting a literary read.

However, I enjoyed this enough to say that I will definitely look out for more novels by this author.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

An amazing first novel from Andrew Davidson, his descriptive writing is incredibly realistic and the opening scenes of the novel, where the protagonist survives (if you can call it survival) a car crash are particularly gruesome.
Did I enjoy this novel, well to be perfectly honest even after reading all 500 pages I am still not really sure. I know this does not make sense but novels with an allegorical tale are rarely if ever a genre I read from choice. So why did I read it, one it was a recommendation and secondly I found it strangely fascinating!

The unnamed protagonist suffers the most horrendous burns apparently not for the first time in his existence as this story crosses the boundaries of time. The love of his ‘lives’ Marianne Engel appears at his bedside to help him survive his modern day burns ordeal.  The stories of their previous love affairs are narrated to him by Marianne and interspersed amongst the present day events and their growing relationship.
In this life the protagonist is or rather was before his accident not a very pleasant young man, a pornographer and drug addict. Now he looks like a monster as well as behaving like one, so he plans to commit suicide as soon as he is released from hospital. That is until Marianne arrives at his hospital bedside to befriend him, a strange and possibly psychotic woman, a sculptress who claims they were lovers in previous lives. Our narrator although is intrigued by her tales of their previous love affairs in lives in 14C Germany, Medieval Japan, Viking  Iceland, Italy and England.

Already an international literary sensation, The Gargoyle is being called a Dante’s Inferno for modern times, which will have you believing in the impossible. Maybe, maybe not! Read it for yourself and see what you think.
I gave this 8* at Bookcrossing not necessarily because I liked it that much but because I think it is an extremely well written novel.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hidden Talents by Erica James

I have been reading the novels written by Erica James since her first one ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ was published in 1996. With the exception of ‘Gardens of Delight’ which is still sitting on my bookshelf, plus ‘Love and Devotion’ which I still have not obtained a copy of, I have now read all her novels. I regard her work as a thoroughly good read where you can immerse yourself in the story, not great literature but so much better than some of the novels regarded as ‘chick lit’ or ‘romantic women’s fiction’.
I continue to enjoy her work when I want to sit back relax and read a reasonably realistic romance with once again believable characters. We appear to share a love of Italy as Italian locations often appear in her novels, this time Venice. 

The protagonists in this novel all decide to cope with changes in their lives by joining a writing group, giving them an opportunity to meet new people with a shared interest. ‘Hidden Talents’ is the name given to the writer’s group and the members were of varied ages and backgrounds, with to start with not much in common apart from a shared passion in writing.
Dulcie Ballantyne is the organiser and leader of the group a sixty three year old who has been a widow for the last twenty two years and has learnt to cope with life in an optimistic manner whatever life throws at her. However as the novel opens her married lover is in hospital as the result of a heart attack and there is nothing she can do.
The first member of the writing group that we meet is Jaz Rafferty a seventeen year old with an intensive desire to write. This is something she keeps secret from her large and exuberant family, of which she is the middle child of five, as she feels they will just laugh at her.
We are next introduced to Beth King a widow from the young age of thirty-two, eleven years ago and soon to become an ‘empty-nester’ when her son Nathan goes to university.  She knows that she needs to expand her horizons so has joined Dulcie’s writing group. Since her husband died she has found comfort in writing down her thoughts.
Next we are introduced to Jack Solomon although he does not immediately become a member of the group in the first chapter devoted to him. Jack a local estate agent is struggling to make a new life for himself after the shock of having his wife leave him for his best friend.
The final person to make a commitment to joining the group is Victor Blackmore a pompous sounding prat who was already working on a novel and looking for expert appraisal.

The novel is not so much about the group and its meetings but about the lives of members of the group and how their friendship grows as they support each other through changes going on in their lives.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Property by Valerie Martin

Shocking and disturbing, yet compulsive reading about the master slave relationship that took place in America’s Deep South in the early nineteenth century.
At the centre of the story is the narrator Manon Gaudet a New Orleans girl who is married to the owner of a Louisiana sugar plantation. When he was courting her she thought he was mysterious and his aloofness due to his sensitivity. However she was soon to discover that she was married to a hideous monster, we never learn the Christian name of this racist bigot. The tension was heightened by the fact that they had no children of their own but her husband had a mad son, Walter whose mother was their slave girl Sarah and who lives as a member of the household. It is no wonder that Manon hates Sarah but at least she tries to escape slavery. Whereas all Manon seems to do is blame Sarah for all her problems, without trying to change things. Until this household drama extends into a bloody uprising of slave unrest causing Manon to gain her independence but only after a series of terrifying episodes.
I did not really warm to any of the main characters although I have extreme sympathy with them for the terrible way that the slaves were treated. Manon even annoyed me in a way as I felt she did not help her own misery by treating her slaves the way she did.
Slavery was diabolical and this story certainly makes that clear but it also reminds us that it was not just the slaves that were seen as ‘ Property’ but also the wives in those times!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Mary Ann Shaffer only discovered that the Germans occupied Guernsey during WWII while researching for another book in England. On a whim during this trip she made a visit to Guernsey and was fascinated by her brief glimpse and gave her the impetus to write this novel albeit it many years later. Sadly ill health meant she was never able to finish the book , but her niece Annie Barrows herself an author stepped in and finished the project, for which Mary Ann gives special thanks in her acknowledgements.
In her own words her intentions in writing this story were “If nothing else, I hope these characters and their story shed some light on the sufferings and strength of the people of the Channel Islands during the German Occupation. I hope, too, that my book will illuminate my belief that love of art-be it poetry, storytelling, painting, sculpture, or music-enables people to transcend any barrier man has yet devised”.

I think she has succeeded with her intentions and shown us what an impact the occupation had on the inhabitants of the Channel Islands. I was especially interested as I have a brother in law who was born in Guernsey just a few years after the end of WWII.

The novel is written in the form of letters from and to the protagonist Juliet Ashton, starting with her publisher and her best friend then by sheer chance a Guernsey islander, Dawsey Adams. They exchange letters and through a love of reading forge a friendship. Juliet is researching a subject for her next publication at this time and it is through Dawsey and other islanders he puts her in touch with that her ideas start to form. Eventually very much against the wishes of her beau Markham V. Reynolds she heads off to visit the island and her new found friends.

The society of the title came into being as a literary society due to a group of neighbours being caught out after curfew by the occupying German soldiers during WWII. They had been enjoying a forbidden roast pig together and it was only quick thinking by one of the group that saved them from being arrested. On the spot she invented the literary society and invited the soldiers to drop in any time to discuss literature! The Potato Peel Pie part came about due to one of the group saying that if he had now had to attend society meetings regularly there needed to be refreshments provided. With a scant shortage of ingredients available Potato Peel Pie was invented, became a favourite and was added to the society’s name.

Recommended, but do not forget it is fiction!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

These Foolish Things by Deborah Moggach

This novel was just what I needed a good laugh, not because I was miserable but the last novel I finished although excellent had very serious undertones. I needed a complete change of pace which this certainly supplied.

Ravi Kapoor a doctor in London is fed up with his somewhat repulsive and difficult father-in-law whom is currently living with him and his wife Pauline. He is living with them as he keeps getting thrown out of old peoples homes! No one wants him and Ravi wishes he was somewhere far away and therefore not his and his wife’s problem. When his cousin Sonny an entrepreneurial business man from Bangalore, India is in London on business he and Ravi come up with what they see as a brilliant plan. They set up a retirement home currently a run down guest house into a home for the more discerning customer. Of course Norman is the first customer to move in when the plans reach realisation and he is joined by the most wonderful cast of characters, other retirees, their grown up children, the staff of both ‘Dunroamin’ and a local call centre where some of the residents make friends with young Indians trying to pretend they live in England! We are gradually told the tales and secrets of the characters in classic Debroah Moggach style; somehow both funny and touching at the same time, the highs and lows of not just retiring to a residential home but one that is abroad.

In fact most of these elderly residents seem to get a new lease of life by making this bold move and one even reads that one of them considers seventy to be the new forty. Now that is something to look forward too!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

The Siege of Sarajevo is a very real event in modern history, lasting for just under four years, April 1992 to the end of February 1996. Sarajevo was at that time a city of some half a million people and it is estimated that around ten thousand were died due to the siege and a further fifty-six thousand wounded. Ten thousand homes were completely destroyed and an incredible hundred thousand suffered damage.
Steven Galloway has based this very moving and harrowing novel on an event that actually happened during the siege when mortar shells struck people queuing to buy bread. Many people were injured and twenty two people died. A well known local cellist played the same piece of music at the site of this atrocity for twenty two consecutive days following the event in remembrance of those that died.
Although the cellist was the inspiration for the novel none of the protagonists’ characters are based on real people but all from the author’s imagination.
The siege is made horribly realistic for the reader by the protagonists as they live through The Siege of Sarajevo, firstly the Cellist, then a young female counter sniper chosen to protect him who hides her real identity behind a pseudonym Arrow. Kenan, looking old but not yet forty, struggles to keep his wife and three young children supplied with water by traversing the dangerous city streets for supplies every few days. Then there is Dragan who has worked at the city bakery for nearly forty years and were it not for the war would probably be contemplating retirement. Having managed to get his wife and son out of the country before the war started, he now lives unhappily with a sister and her family the bread he provides making him indispensable.

I now feel I have thanks to this powerful novel a better understanding of exactly what the inhabitants of Sarajevo had to endure during this conflict.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It's the Little Things by Erica James

I have enjoyed reading the novels written by Erica James since her first one ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ was published in 1996. With the exception of a couple (Gardens of Delight and Hidden Talents) that are still sitting on my bookshelf, plus Love and Devotion which I still have not obtained a copy of, I have now read all her novels. I regard her work as a thoroughly good read where you can immerse yourself in the story, not great literature but so much better than some of the novels regarded as ‘chick lit’ or ‘romantic women’s fiction’.

It was interesting to read at the end of the novel Erica James notes as to why she had written this novel. Her starting point was the Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 an event she herself witnessed and survived. She always felt that one day she would use this experience in one of her novels, not writing about the actual event but a story of how lives could be changed as the result of surviving such an ordeal.

I think she has succeeded and written a very readable novel around this theme.
In her words “We humans have an incredible ability for surviving the seemingly insurmountable, but it’s always the little things – the daily irritations of every day life – that prove more challenging”
It is three years since four friends, Dan and Sally Oliver, Chloe Hennessey and her boyfriend Paul survived the Boxing Day Tsunami. We catch up with the lives they are now all living in the countryside not far from Manchester, Sally a successful Lawyer in Manchester, Dan a stay at home father and Chloe a local GP. Dan and Sally appear to have a happy marriage and a child, two major things Chloe lacks and desires in her life having broken up with her boyfriend Paul. Chloe thinks she may have found the ideal man when she meets Seth Hawthorne, but it is complicated!
As the story line is a realistic one it is easy to become immersed in the lives of the protagonists and find oneself feeling emotions regarding their behaviour. For example Sally Oliver is a most irritating and thoroughly unpleasant young woman, why did her husband Dan stupidly put up with her behaviour for so long. Even the other main protagonists Chloe Hennessey and Seth Hawthorne I felt I wanted to shake more than once!
I suspect that these were just the sort of reactions to these characters that Erica James wanted us to have.
Anyway in my opinion she has produced yet another delightful realistic novel of romance, duplicity and misconceptions in the 21st century.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Sisters by Danielle Steel

In this very weak novel from Danielle Steel we are told the story of a year of emotional tumult in the lives of the four Adam’s sisters. The youngest is twenty-one year old Candace known simply as ‘Candy’ around the world due to her super-model status. Next is twenty-six year old Annie a perpetual art student thanks to the financial support of her parents, after studying for art degrees in Rhode Island and Paris she is now living in Florence to learn painting techniques of the old masters. The second oldest sister is Tammy, twenty-nine who having studied television and communications is now the producer of a successful television show in Los Angeles. The oldest sister is Sabrina, thirty four a high flying lawyer.

Having been introduced to the girls chapter by chapter and repetitively given information about the life of each sister they all descend upon their family home in Connecticut for the traditional Fourth of July celebrations with their parents Jane and Jim, the archetypical happily married couple. It is over this weekend that their lives are torn apart by tragedy. The sisters decide that to get the family back on track they will live together under the same roof for a year, something they have not done altogether at once for many years. Maybe this is why they always get on as adults when they meet up how will they all cope. It is a sad but disappointingly weak storyline which I felt was padded out tremendously by the repetitions mentioned earlier continuing throughout the novel. At least we learn that it all worked out ok, they coped with living together again, just about, as they rebuild their lives over the next year with the inevitable happy ending.

Although I have been reading the novels of Danielle Steel as light relief for over thirty years I am now seriously wondering why I continue to do so. She may be a prolific and popular author but I think the time has come to remove her novels from my wishlists and spend more time reading other authors that I enjoy more.

Cocaine Nights by J.G. Ballard

Set in a Spanish ex-pat community this a tense thriller written with sarcastic wit that explores to quote from the text , ‘a social economy based on drug-dealing, theft, pornography and escort services from top to bottom a condominium of crime’.

Charles Prentice arrives in this strange community to discover just why his brother Frank, manager of the local sports club as confessed to a charge of murdering five people in a house fire! Everyone, apart from the local police, is so sure of his innocence that Charles decides to do some investigating of his own. His questioning causes all sorts of attacks upon him as he discovers a strong undercurrent suggesting that there are much more complex things of concern to the community than the death of five people!
At first Charles is sickened by the behaviour of the residents he meets but gradually he is drawn into their world. The person who has the most disturbing effect upon him is Bobby Crawford the club tennis coach who changes Charles Prentice just like he did his brother Frank before him. So much so that he accepts his logic without fully understanding that he is becoming involved in a bizarre social experiment.
A clever totally unexpected ending, though afterwards when I was still thinking about the novel I realised it was the obvious one, just that I had missed the hints!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani

I have now read a few of Adriana Trigiani’s novels and this one has to be my favourite amongst them, a charming but sad love story. Perfect reading material if you are in the mood for some romantic escapism.
The heroine Lucia Sartori a seventy year old single lady tells the story of her life to the only other single lady living in the same apartment block as her, twenty five year old Kit Zanetti. Lucia was the only daughter growing up in a large Italian-American family in Greenwich Village, New York in the 1950’s when family values were still of great importance. As in her other novels Adriana Trigiani displays a talent for descriptive writing that brings the era alive.

The Peacock Emporium by JoJo Moyes

I did enjoy this eventually; it took for me an exceptionally long time to read, over a week. I found it very slow and it took me ages to feel involved enough in the story to want to read much more than a chapter at a time. The first few chapters are important as they introduce the reader to the history of the heroine’s family background. At the time this may seem irrelevant but persevere and read beyond this and it will all click into place.
The protagonist is Suzanna Peacock who with her husband has returned to live in the small country town of her birth. An emotionally disturbed young woman she has a lot to come to terms with in her life, especially her past and the way her mother though long dead still seems to affect her happiness. The only place Suzanna seems to be comfortable with herself is in the Peacock Emporium the shop she opens and it is here we learn the stories of the complex cast of characters that are drawn to the Emporium. A series of dramatic events threaten Suzanna’s stability but in true chick lit style there is a happy ending.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Rain Forest by Olivia Manning

First published in 1974 but despite knowing this author from The Balkan and The Levant trilogies I had never come across this title before. It was drawn to my attention when I read a review by a friend; she then very kindly sent me her copy.

A tale from the last days of the British Empire, When Hugh Foster a failing script writer takes a temporary post with the Foreign Office; on the island of Al-Bustan in the Indian Ocean his marriage is already very rocky. After eleven years of married life he and his wife Kristy, a writer herself, are leading somewhat separate lives and Hugh seems somewhat surprised that she had agreed to go with him. This posting is to be an opportunity for them to start afresh.
Settling in to their new life in Al-Bustan is no easy task as they find themselves surrounded by snobbery and political scheming by people who just do not want to accept either of them into island society. They are both treated appallingly but particularly Kristy, one could not help feeling sorry for this weak and pathetic couple. It was so annoying when they put up with such treatment, especially at the hotel where they had to deal with the most terrible humiliations!
An extremely tense and sad ending to a novel that although I found exasperating at times I could not help but like as it is so well written.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Clothes On Their Backs by Linda Grant

The narrator of the novel is Vivien Kovacs the only child of Hungarian immigrant parents, Ervin and Berta who keep themselves to themselves and are even secretive about their past with their own daughter. It is a tantalizing portrait of life for this family in 1970’s London, it is only after Vivien is grown up and once again living back at home after a personal disaster that she decides to discover her roots. Using snippets of information she has overheard as a child she discovers her father’s estranged brother Sandor. This sets off a chain of mainly tragic events but at least she learns the truth about her family.

This paragraph from the novel sums up for me how Linda Grant used clothes in this novel as an allegory of personalities.
‘The clothes you wear are a metamorphosis. They change you from the outside in. we are all trapped with these thick calves or pendulous breasts, our sunken chests, our dropping jowls. A million imperfections mar us. These are deep flaws we are not at liberty to do anything about except under the surgeon’s knife. So the most you can do is put on a new dress, a different tie. We are forever turning into someone else and should never forget that someone else is always looking’

The clothes descriptions are a clever use of imagery which I felt painted a very vivid portrait of not only the clothes but helped bring the characters personality and appearance alive on the page.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Another intriguing tale from the Queen of historical romance. When reading the novels of Philippa Gregory it is very easy to forget that they are works of fiction as her extensive research brings history alive on the printed page.

This time it is the story of Mary Queen of Scots, during her years of imprisonment as the so called ‘guest’ of the Shrewsbury’s. This tale of suspense, passion and political intrigue is related to the reader by the three protagonists, Mary herself, George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and his determined wife Bess of Hardwick.

George, Lord High Steward of England for Queen Elizabeth I and only fairly recently wed to Bess finds himself commanded to guard Queen Mary as a guest in his household.
Bess a self made woman who has used three previous marriages as a stepping stone to her fourth, The Earl, at first sees this arrangement as beneficial to her household. It is only after seeing her husband with Queen Mary that Bess realises that at forty one she is already an old woman. Past child bearing age she is a woman who has risen as high as she is likely and can now only face decline. It seems she is now competing with a Queen for her husband’s heart.
George takes his task very seriously as a loyal servant to Queen Elizabeth I, however he still finds himself becoming emotionally attached to this young woman who has become part of his household. It his gullibility that is the cause of him squandering his wife’s inheritance that she bought to the marriage on a young woman who will continue her fight for her throne no matter what.
Mary a young woman of tremendous courage and determination through out her imprisonment never gives up her fight for the throne, even as plot after plot to free her is discovered.

As a story based on historical fact told to us by three main players during an interesting period in history this novel could not be better. As the reader I felt involved with Mary, George and Bess as individually they told of their hopes and disappointments during the years that plans were made, acted on and failed time and again to restore Mary to her rightful place on the throne of Scotland and provide freedom of choice in religion for the British people. Had they succeeded the course of history would have been somewhat different!

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Duchess by Amanda Foreman

I would probably not have chosen this title myself as something I would enjoy, but I was pleasantly surprised. Recently passed on to me by my daughter when she was clearing her bookshelves, this is history made palatable. Originally published in 1998 as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, it has now been republished because of the recent film. Prior to reading this I only knew the very basic facts about her, mainly that she was like her descendant Diana, Princess of Wales publicly loved and personally very troubled.

A fascinating account and although normally I would not want to do so after reading the book, I would actually now like to see the film ‘The Duchess’ and will be looking out to either hire the DVD or wait for it to appear on television.
Through the study of letters Amanda Foreman has managed to create for her readers a vivid portrayal of the life Georgiana lived as a young wife with a much older husband, whose mistress she was expected to accept. What a strange life they all seemed to live surrounded by scandals both at home and in politics. Georgiana herself succumbed to addiction and incurred huge gambling debts, from a very young age. She was also ill-fated to never be happy in love but she never lost sight of the fact that her children were the single most important factor in her life, she adored them. I found there were a number of comparisons to be made with the life of her descendant who was born just over two hundred years after her!

From what I have heard and read about the film I think having read this first will give me a much greater insight and understanding to the broader historical background.

Flora's Lot by Katie Fforde

Katie Fforde is an author I have been reading and enjoying since 1995, usually reading new titles as they are published. Somehow Flora’s Lot which was first published in 2004 remained elusive until I recently managed to get hold of a copy, her eleventh novel! Katie Fforde has never I do not think aspired to write great literary fiction but she certainly writes easy to read romantic fiction with realistic characters in feasible situations.
This time the protagonist is Flora Stanza who having recently inherited shares in the family antique business of Stanza and Stanza decides to leave London for awhile and investigate the world of antiques. Her cousin and partner in the business Charles does not give her the welcome she was expecting, mainly due to the fact that his fiancée Annabelle is not happy about her interest in the ailing firm. With the help of a great cast of characters who help make up for her lack of experience in the auction business and country living, Flora enthusiastically sets about reviving the business.

This was not my favourite Katie Fforde novel but if you are looking for romantic escapism this is exactly what she produces every time. Predictable stories, but that does not detract from their enjoyment.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Becoming Strangers by Louise Dean

I am now unable to recall exactly why this title was on my to read list, but something about it must have originally attracted me. It was longlisted for the 2004 Man Booker prize and this first time author has been compared to Alan Bennett with her writing style.

Two couples Jan and Annemieke and George and Dorothy meet whilst on holiday on a Caribbean island. Jan and Annemieke are middle aged Belgians and they know for sure that this is the last of many such holidays, that they will take together. Jan has a terminal illness and knows he will soon be too weak to travel far. Escaping from their daily existence for awhile and knowing he is dying makes him realise that he has never taken the time to understand his wife. Meanwhile his wife Annemieke is wondering how she will cope alone and takes to participating in anonymous sexual encounters.
The other couple are British and are considerably older and this is the first and probably the last such trip they have ever undertaken. George also learns a lot about himself and his marriage to Dorothy, who has the early stages of Alzheimer’s, whilst on holiday and decides to write his memoirs in case he forgets who he is without Dorothy to help him remember.
The story of two ordinary couples both at the beginning of the end of their lives together I felt was a depressing enough topic without discovering that I was disappointed. It was a cleverly written comic tragedy but I just found it unbearably dull and impossible to lose myself in.

Milk Glass Moon by Adriana Trigiani

The final volume of Adriana Trigiani’s Big Stone Gap trilogy continues the story with all the wonderful characters from the previous volumes of life in Big Stone Gap Virginia. The main characters Ave Maria and Jack MacChesney are still facing challenges within their marriage. This time they are learning to cope with what happens as their daughter Etta turns from a child into a woman and their relationship with her changes.
It was a slow story to develop from book one but with the protagonist Ave Maria’s development from spinster, to marriage and discovery of her Italian heritage I was left wanting to know how her life had changed by reading the next volume. Big Cherry Holler finds Ave Maria and Jack eight years later and it is a gentle continuation of the ups and downs of their marriage and is again set both in America and the land of Ave Maria’s forefathers, Italy.
So to the third and I feel best volume continuing Ave Maria’s life story as she faces the changing mother daughter relationship with Etta and finally learns about the power of love. Once again we are transported from the mountains of Virginia to the Italian countryside and this time also to New York City. We are also kept up to date with big changes within the community of big stone Gap itself, where time has changed since Ave Maria the local spinster first took over the town pharmacy from the man she knew as her father.
By the end of these three novels I felt I knew the characters personally and actually enjoyed the trilogy more than I expected too, liking each volume just a little more!

I think it is possible to read each of the Big Stone Gap novels as stand alone stories but I would recommend reading all three to gain a full insight into the inhabitants of this southern town.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wilt in Nowhere by Tom Sharpe

It is a good few years ago that I last read a novel that contained the protagonists Henry and Eva Wilt, but my memories of this couple soon came flooding back. I literally laughed my way through this in a day as once again the Wilts got themselves into the most terrible tangle of events!

Henry and Eva are apart for much of the time so there are two ludicrously farcical plots to follow. Eva and the horrendous quads have been invited to holiday with relatives in the USA which of course all goes horribly wrong. Henry in his inevitable way has managed to wriggle out of this trip. Pleading work but then planning a secret lone walking holiday which of course is also set by misfortune!

If you are an old fan of the Wilts then you will probably enjoy this as farcical as ever trip down memory lane.

Free Fall by John Francome

Crime fiction not a genre I read very often and a first by John Francome, although I remember when
one of my daughters was younger she went through a phase of reading this author. Owning a horse and living near racing stables was probably part of the attraction.
As an ex jockey turned writer he obviously knows the racing world inside out and draws on his own background and experiences for his novels. As it has been languishing on our bookshelves for a couple of years and I was looking for a book that would be easy to concentrate on, I decided to pick this one. It met my expectations as suitable for the mood I was in and I finished it very quickly.

The main protagonists are two couples, Pat a jockey who is unwisely operating a scam with Andy the husband of Harriet, who just happens to be the sister of Pat’s girlfriend Zoe. Harriet is the only one of the foursome who does not work in the world of horse racing. Somewhat bored with the lifestyle she gets involved with a hunky tennis coach at the health club where she works in the hairdressing salon.
As this is a crime thriller there is of course the inevitable murder along the way which is well plotted although I had guessed correctly who did it before the author finally reveals the truth!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Paris Imperfect by Susie Vereker

Romantic comedy for the 21st century, this was a perfect read for a sunny afternoon of relaxation.
A perfectly feasible modern love story, if not rather predictable as I was not surprised at all by anything that happened. Although this novel has all the traditional elements of a romantic novel I feel it lacks the humour, suspense and intrigue of Susie Vereker’s earlier novels.

The protagonist is twice married and divorced Clio, living in Paris with her French lover Philippe. Although she is not completely sure she is happy with Philippe, due to his constant criticism and desire for perfection, she remains with him as she craves stability in her life. She stays with Philippe not only for her sake but for that of her son Alex, the single most important person in her life. Anyway Philippe does sort of propose to her, the problem being that he is still legally married.
A fact Philippe’s mother is constantly reminding Clio of in a far from subtle manner.
Clio works as a tour guide and it is through her work that she meets someone who gives her renewed confidence in herself which Philippe has slowly eroded.
Well I am sure you can guess the rest, love story with a predictably happy ending!

I have already added Susie Vereker’s next novel ‘Tropical Connections’ to My Wishlist.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

I only discovered the work of this prolific author under three years ago. As I have at various levels enjoyed all eight read previously, I am now trying to read all the published novels by her that I can get hold of.
Harvesting the Heart was her second novel first published in 1993 and although it certainly does not have the polish or topical moralistic style of her more recent novels it is still an enjoyable read.

Basically the story tells of the anguish and joy of parenthood told in flashbacks by the two protagonists Paige and Nicholas Prescott. Paige’s mother had abandoned her young daughter and husband when Paige was still very young. Circumstances force her to run away from home herself at eighteen and she soon meets and marries Nicholas a very successful medical student. His parents were very much against the marriage, disowned by them they struggle with a lifestyle that soon overwhelms Paige, who is not used to such a sophisticated lifestyle as demanded by Nicholas’s rising career. After the birth of their son Max Paige starts to seriously doubt her own maternal instincts and capability to be a good mother. It is then that history seems to repeat itself as she in her turn runs away in search of answers.
This is an absorbing novel which is written in the already emerging distinct style that Jodi Picoult has now made her speciality. I would recommend this to all fans of her novels.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale

This was my first Patrick Gale novel, so I had no preconceived ideas and am delighted to say that I found it absolutely engrossing. I will certainly be on the look out for other titles by this author in future.
The story is a powerful and emotional one revolving around the story of artist Rachel Kelly as her family deal with puzzling aspects of both her life and death. Rachel suffered from manic depression, now more commonly known as bi-polar disorder and led a life of highs and lows. The novel moves to its climatic and emotional ending through a series of non chronological chapters. At the start of each chapter is a curator’s note from an exhibition held in her honour posthumously. Each note sets the tone for the chapter, each one narrated by various family members, it works very well as one gradually builds a picture of Rachel’s complex life. Rachel has always been something of a mystery to her husband, Anthony and her four children, Garfield, Hedley, Morwenna and Petroc, after her death the family feel the need for answers and it is these we learn. Each characters feelings are well portrayed and I felt drawn to them all, plus I also enjoyed the Cornish setting and learning something about Quakerism.
I will certainly be recommending this title to friends and family that have not yet read it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Resurrectionist by James Bradley

This is a very well written novel but that is the only good thing I have to say! It is about Resurrectionists in London in the 1800’s and although I knew what the subject matter was beforehand I had no idea it would be so unpleasant. It was a Richard and Judy summer read recommendation which is how it came to be on my reading list. I like to broaden my horizons with the books I read but this one contained some of the most unpleasant descriptive passages I have read in recent years. It was certainly an insight for me into the sinister goings on in the London of that period. There is not much of a plot to hold one’s interest but it did make me think about the characters that are vividly described and wondering how they could live with themselves. Gabriel Swift the protagonist starts out training as an anatomist but soon slips into a life of violence and corruption as a body snatcher. The ending I actually felt was philosophical in the way that it made sense of all that had gone before. Worth reading if you can cope with the gory details, not good bedtime reading if you are susceptible to nightmares though.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Body Artist by Don de Lillo

A ghost story far from my favourite genre but I thought I would try it as it is a minuscule novella and would take very little time to read.

The protagonist is Lauren Hartke, The Body Artist and the story centres on her being alone in a large house after the death of her late husband. Is she alone though as she discovers someone is living in the spare room. His physical presence never seems to be proved by Lauren and you are never quite sure if he is real or a figment of her imagination. He certainly seems to know a lot about her late husband Rey and even starts talking to her in his voice. A real person, a ghost, the ramblings of a recently bereaved woman; who knows?

In all I found it very strange, but maybe I did not fully understand the style this was written in.

Big Cherry Holler by Adriana Trigiani

As a sequel to Big Stone Gap a gentle continuation of the ups and downs of the love between Ave Maria Mulligan and the man she has now been married to for eight years, Jack MacChesney. Ave has still not completely opened her heart to her husband but she needs to now or she is in danger of losing the best thing that ever happened to her. They have not been easy years for them or the local community. The death of their son seems to have come between them, instead of drawing them closer too each other. Ave Maria only realises her lack of full commitment to the marriage after a trip she and her daughter take to Italy. She returns to Big Stone Gap determined to put things right between her and her husband and learn to be more open and honest with him.
Once again I found this rather slow but marginally more enjoyable as it was only in April that I read Big Stone Gap, so the cast of characters were still familiar to me.
I will go on to read the final volume of the trilogy Milk Glass Moon soon while the story is still with me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

A novella from the pen of the brilliant Alan Bennett. Written with his renowned dry sense of humour this is an excellent quick read.
The queen had no idea that a mobile library van even made a regular visit to Buckingham Palace until one day whilst walking her corgis in the palace grounds they came across it. At first she borrowed a book out of politeness but soon discovers the joy of reading. With the guidance of another travelling library member, Norman who works in the palace kitchens, she becomes widely read. She soon finds that she prefers reading to her duties as monarch to the dismay of the palace staff. This new passion of the queens leads her to behave somewhat differently than she has ever done before when undertaking her duties.
Brilliant and witty, it is a short and enjoyable read, full of interesting facts which will be a delight to anyone fascinated by the world of books.

The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre

This novel was somewhat spoilt for me by the fact that I already seen the film. A mistake as I much prefer not to have any preconceived ideas about the plot, characters and settings, letting my imagination have free rein.
This is probably the reason that although the book has been on my bookshelves for a few years now I have only just got around to reading it. Even so with pictures already in my mind I did enjoy the book more than I expected to.

This novel is disturbingly believable as exploitation of Africa and Africans for medical testing by the giant pharmaceutical companies is a sad but I suspect true fact of life. In this case the story is set in Kenya and the protagonist Justin Quayle is a diplomat in Nairobi with the British High Commission. His wife Tessa is murdered because she finds out that a drug being used as a cure for tuberculosis within the tribal villages is unstable. There are still many unresolved and dangerous side effects making the drug unsafe for prescribing, although bribery and corruption have meant that it is in common local use. Tessa is a lawyer and so horrified by her discovery that along with her friend Arnold Bluhm she had been collecting data to prove what she has discovered.
After her death Justin carries on with his wife’s campaign, turning spy to resolve why his wife was murdered and by whom. Time spent working in the foreign office meant he knew to be extra careful in his investigations as ‘In a civilised country you never can tell!’

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks

A quick fun read for fans of James Bond. Set back in the late sixties during the cold war we are treated to all the elements of an exciting Bond story, exotic locations, incredible stunts and a sinister villain of course not forgetting a beautiful heroine. This time the heroine is Scarlett who turns out to be not quite what Bond had expected!

Sebastian Faulks is an author whose novels I have always enjoyed reading. As for the character James Bond as created by Ian Fleming I have always watched the films, but I have never read any of the stories before now.
‘Devil May Care’ is another typical adventure for James Bond although having not read any of Flemings work I am unable to compare the writing style. I prefer Bond on the big screen rather than in print and I hope that Sebastian Faulks regarded this Bond novel as a one off venture. He wrote it to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Ian Fleming on 28th May 1908. It is an exciting new adventure for James Bond and an honour to his originator Ian Fleming but let’s hope that it is now left at that and Sebastian Faulks can return to his more literary writing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson

I enjoyed this very readable family saga set on the beautiful tropical island of Jamaica, a perfect summer read.
The appearance of some real-life characters along with the Jamaican setting for this family saga gave the story for me the feel of reality. Errol Flynn arrives on the island when his yacht is shipwrecked and he soon decides to make a home for himself on the island. He sees the paradise of Jamaica as a chance for him to make a fresh start. He befriends local Eli Joseph and this is how one of the two heroines of the novel gets to know him, as a family friend. Ida Joseph is the first protagonist, the young daughter of Eli who grows up admiring this captivating older man. She sets her heart on marrying him once she is old enough as she does not see him as the ladies man that the rest of the world regards this daring Hollywood star as. She thinks her dream has become reality when Errol eventually seduces her and she has his child, the second protagonist, May Joseph Flynn.
Predictably Errol does not hang around to marry Ida and May only ever meets her famous father once.
They live their lives without him although you feel his presence is always around them both, May because growing up on the island everyone is aware of who her famous absent father is and do not let her forget. Ida does not want to forget him and ends up marrying his friend, living on his island, surrounded by his things and her memories. Her entire life seems to be spent trying to protect May from the consequences of being the daughter of such a man.
The story of Ida and May spans thirty years and it was interesting to learn something of the changes going on in Jamaican history during that period. Sometimes the ending of sagas such as this one can be somewhat of a let down but this was certainly not with some unexpected revelations.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Everything Must Go by Elizabeth Flock

This is the first book I have read by Elizabeth Flock and I think maybe I should not have started with this title. It was one of the dullest stories I have read for a long time which jumped about all over the place in its timeline and was such a boring story.
The protagonist Henry is one of three sons and for most of his life has carried with him the guilt of his younger brother’s death. Winning a scholarship he did escape his home town of Baxter for awhile but due to his mother’s ill health he is summoned home and ends up working in the local clothing store. It is his daydreams of the life he may have had that keep him going. Dull life, dull story, and yawn!

I have a great respect for all novelists and think that writing and publishing of a novel is a great achievement. So my review is in no way a reflection upon the author, just on the story which I happened not to enjoy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Love walked In by Marisa de los Santos

I dislike myself a little when I write a review for a book that I have not enjoyed as I wonder who I am to criticise. I have a great respect for all novelists and think that writing and publishing of a novel is a great achievement. So my review is in no way a reflection upon the author, just on the story which I happened not to enjoy. After all we are all very different and thankfully like and dislike different things. The world would be a dull and boring place if we were all the same.
Reading the blurb for this title I probably should have suspected that it might not be to my taste when I read the words ‘grown up fairy tale about old movies’.
I have tried more than once over the last week to get beyond the first chapter but I am sorry, I just found all the mentions of old films and film stars in the first chapter alone off putting. For example Love Affair, The Philadelphia Story, The Great Gatsby; Jean Harlow, Irene Dunne, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. I have heard of these films and most of the people, but as I am not a fan of old movies they mean nothing to me.
Maybe if I had persevered I would have come to enjoy this tribute to film classics, but somehow I think not. Meanwhile I recommend it to old movie aficionados.

Half A Life by V.S. Naipaul

A title recommended and passed on to me by my daughter recently. I read it in one afternoon session sitting in the shade in the garden.
As a little boy Willie Chandran wanted to know why his middle name was Somerset. His father explains that it was after the famous British writer Somerset Maugham. Willie of course wants to know why. This is the story that his father gradually tells him, of a son whom possibly should never have been born, while he is growing up and Willie is coming to terms with his origins. Growing up in India he leaves for London in the post war years, eventually falling in love and moving to Africa. A short biographical style story that I found rather sad as he felt he did not belong anywhere. Willie seemed such a pathetic man, hated by his father he appears to wander through his own life aimlessly trying to fit in with those around him. Once a misfit always a misfit; seems the easiest way of describing Willies discomfort with his life.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

It is only after I started reading this novel that I discovered that it is considered a science fiction novel. The blurb does not give you any idea of what you are going to discover within the pages of the book, so it was rather a surprise to enter the world of Hailsham pupils. Science fiction is not a genre I would choose to read normally, but I loved this. So do not be put off reading this novel by its categorisation.
The protagonists Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were all pupils at a select boarding school in the English countryside. So select that the pupils were all clones alienated from the rest of society. They were naively unaware of this nightmare lifestyle whereas they had only been created so that when they reached maturity their organs would be used to save the lives of others.
Set in the recent past it is a painful read as Kathy narrates how she and her fellow students Ruth and Tommy spent their youth at school and then early adulthood until they ‘complete’ their lives. One of my favourite scenes is the one that gives the book its title ‘Never Let Me Go’.
To say I loved this book may therefore seem strange but I did, finding it scary in its reality and moving in its handling of love and loss. A very poignant story of love and friendship that will certainly leave you thinking about the fragility of life for a long time afterwards.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Rocken Edge by Wendy K. Harris

Another emotionally gripping novel from the author Wendy K Harris, a new publisher, but still part of her Undercliff series set in the Isle of Wight. Once again the main protagonists are new characters so it is not necessary to have read the previous two novels in the series. Although if you have done so, as I have, you will come across a cast of familiar characters.
Once again the storyline is fairly shocking but sadly believable as something that could occur and probably has done somewhere in real life. Also as in her previous novels the author brings to life the surroundings with her descriptive prose.
In this third novel the protagonist is a young teenager Clare who arrives on the Isle of Wight in a very distressed state seeking a girl she hardly knows but hopes will help her. The locals take her in and both knowingly and unknowingly help her to sort herself out and get her life back on track. She needs to come to terms with fact that love can be harmful as well as healing, blessed and ungodly. To quote one of the main characters ‘love can seriously damage your sanity’
Besides Clare the other main characters are troubled Father Ryan, from Clare’s hometown in Ireland who is at the root of Clare’s distress; Rachel single mother and business woman recently deserted by her Italian lover and Fran the farm owner who unknowingly does Clare a huge favour. It is thanks to Fran that things work out for Clare in the end. The relationships between these four characters slip into place as this sensitive story twists and turns its way to the open conclusion. The possibility of another Undercliff novel I wonder?

Within this genre I think well worth reading and Wendy K Harris is certainly an author whose work I will continue to follow.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda

I think that this novel about a group of four unlikely misfits that become friends is both profound and touching. Camille is an anorexic and lonely artist. Philibert her intellectual and aristocratic neighbour is the one who initially rescues Camille from herself. Franck a talented chef is Philibert’s lodger. The final member of the quartet is Franck’s aged Grandmother Paulette. The group learn to slowly cope with life together through the redemptive power of their various forms of love for each other. Each one of them discovers that they need something that is missing from their lives, whether it is food, friendship or love.
I liked all four protagonists as thanks to the descriptive writing one felt as though you really knew them and were able to empathise with them over their problems. Anna Gavalda also managed to bring to life for me the Parisian surroundings including the garret flat, the imposing apartment and Paulette’s former home in the countryside.

It is no exaggeration to say that I found it a fabulous portrayal of life and love, certainly one of my favourite reads so far this year.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Lessons to Learn by Natasha Judd

I am sorry to say that I was very disappointed in this novel. It was in fact I found rather boring with the protagonist telling us about her childhood in New Zealand and her current experiences teaching English in Korea. Charlotte was obviously an extremely unhappy young lady; she was only in Korea as she was running away from unhappiness with her life in New Zealand. I never felt that she really wanted to be in Korea and she did not give herself a chance to enjoy the experience of living in a different culture. She was unhappy with the circumstances she found herself in but did nothing to resolve them, just let life drift on around her. Her behaviour and unfortunately hence the novel annoyed me in fact.
It was however only the storyline that disappointed me because the actual writing style was I found very descriptive and I was able to visualize well some of the eccentric cast of characters.
I will certainly look out for any more novels that Natasha Judd may publish as this was her first, in itself a great achievement.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Falling Angels: Tracy Chevalier:

This is the third novel by Tracy Chevalier that I have read and I have found them all utterly compelling and so different. I loved the choice of title which I felt was a clever use of symbolism, with angels falling throughout the book! The opening chapter may well surprise you about those staid Victorians.
Falling Angels is about the friendship of two little girls Lavinia Waterhouse and Maude Coleman.
Covering the time from when they first met in the local graveyard, where their family plots are next door to each other. It is 1901 and everyone is in mourning for the death of Queen Victoria. We follow the girls growing up through changing times for the next nine years. The book is narrated by just about every character in the book, so the story comes together seen through the eyes of not only the two protagonists but their families, household staff and two members of the graveyard staff that play important roles in the plot. This structure gave the effect of feeling very much part of the plot oneself as though all the characters were speaking to you personally, which very cleverly makes you feel you are there! Drawn into the seemingly mundane lives of the Waterhouse and Coleman families the drama builds as Maude’s mother becomes involved with the suffragette movement and a series of tragedies occur.
I recommend this novel as an enjoyable read written from an interesting angle about a fascinating period in British history.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Best Foot Forward by Susie Kelly

Susie Kelly, a fifty plus English woman domiciled in France decided to take time out from a busy smallholding lifestyle and walk miles across France.

The idea came to her while walking in the lanes around her home one cold January day and becoming bored with repitiveness of her walks. Incidentally an idea I find strange as I always find there is something different to look at with the ever changing seasons.
So Susie decides to embark on a walk from La Rochelle to Lake Geneva. A journey of some 550 miles that would take her approx six weeks to complete. Four months of planning and training followed before she set off, leaving her smallholding in the capable hands of an American she had found via the internet!

This was a decent average read but I do not rate it highly enough to give it 4 or 5 stars on Amazon as all the other reviewers appear to have done. I felt that Susie must be an exceptionally determined woman with a good sense of humour to have succeeded in overcoming the difficulties she encountered en route. A leaking tent and almost constant pain with my feet would have had me going mad.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous

This personal diary covers a two month period in the life of a young German woman. She writes of her life in Berlin from April to June 1945 when Berliners came to realise what war and defeat was to mean to them as the Russian army arrived in the city. The protagonist is anonymous but we know that she worked in publishing and is intelligent. She speaks some Russian and French which helped her to cope in the horrendous situation Berliners found themselves in after the fall of the Nazis.
A large proportion of the women were subjected to the indignity of rape and the diary reveals how the women and the protagonist in particular coped with the terrifying situation that they found themselves in. They were struggling for survival from day to day from the horrendous violence, cruelty and starvation. It seemed that the Russians subjected them to this treatment in retaliation for their suffering under the Germans earlier in the war.
A tragic true account of an extraordinary brief period during the Second World War which I am glad I read although it is quite distressing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern

If I had read the book cover before deciding to read this I would probably never have started it, as it does say that this author is the queen of modern fairytale, the idea of which just does not appeal to me.
A strange tale of modern fantasy; which did not appeal to me very much. Although I did finish reading in the hope that it might have improved. It didn’t which was disappointing.
I found the story was spun out for far too long and it therefore became rather boring. After having a blood transfusion the heroine Joyce Conway finds that she has memories and talents that she never had beforehand. It appears that she has taken these attributes from Justin Hitchcock the hero of the story, although of course it takes a long time for her to discover and prove this rather ridiculous fantasy.

The only other title I have read by this author is her debut novel P.S. I Love You which I seem to remember I enjoyed. I do not think I will be going out of my way to read any more by this author

If I had read the book cover before deciding to read this I would probably never have started it, as it does say that this author is the queen of modern fairytale, the idea of which just does not appeal to me.
A strange tale of modern fantasy; which did not appeal to me very much. Although I did finish reading in the hope that it might have improved. It didn’t which was disappointing.
I found the story was spun out for far too long and it therefore became rather boring. After having a blood transfusion the heroine Joyce Conway finds that she has memories and talents that she never had beforehand. It appears that she has taken these attributes from Justin Hitchcock the hero of the story, although of course it takes a long time for her to discover and prove this rather ridiculous fantasy.

The only other title I have read by this author is her debut novel P.S. I Love You which I seem to remember I enjoyed. I do not think I will be going out of my way to read any more by this author

Monday, May 11, 2009

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka

Hilarious and tragic at the same time, a difficult combination but once again Marina Lewycka has carried it off. Another farcical tale of Ukranians and other immigrants trying to find a better life for themselves in Englands green and pleasant land.
It starts in the Strawberry fields of Kent and a series of incidents lead our protagonists Andriy and Irina to Sheffield. It starts with a much larger group of immigrants but they gradually get left along the way until we are left with just the two. The original group being exploited by their employers and the criminal types that found them the work in the first place, decide to take the caravan they currently live in on the road to find their destinys. The motley group consists of Andriy, Ukrainian, son of a miner, Polish Tomasz, Vitaly, Yola, her niece Marta, all from EasternEurope, two Chinese girls, Irina who is fairly educated and is in England to improve her English, Emanuel from Malawi and of course the dog. The latter even narrates the story at times from a dogs point of view, strange but funny! It is on the road during various adventures whilst discovering the harsh realities of life that the group disperses all over England..Among the adventures are scenes in a poultry rearing unit, which makes disturbing reading if you are overly sensitive to such unpleaseant facts. Also making a brief appearance in a nursing home adventure is the old man Nikolai Mayevskyj from the authors first novel, a clever and amusing little touch. Fishing, restaurant work, and of course the initial strawberry picking scenes are also involved in this comical but poignant view of the illegal immigrant community in England.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

I was recently given three titles in the Big Stone Gap series, this being the first I have just finished reading it. It was so unmemorable that I did not realise that I had actually read it for the first time just over two years ago! I had felt that some of the scenes seemed familiar and had just assumed the same themes had been used elsewhere.
The story was rather slow at first and I wondered if I was going to enjoy the series? Nothing much happens in the little southern town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia and although an easy read I actually found the first half rather boring. The highlight of the spinster heroine Ave Maria Mulligan's week is when the travelling library arrives in town! At thirty five and still single the town pharmacist Ave Maria is the exception in a town where there is not much to do besides marry young and have a family. She is considered somewhat strange by the townsfolk of Big Stone Gap.
It did improve somewhat as it went on and we learn of the family scandals that arise in Ave Maria's life. The most interesting parts for me being the Italian connections.
I am left with just enough enthusiasm to read the next two novels in the series. I do think though that it is probably just as well that I have read the first in the series for a second time to reaquaint myself with the characters. Maybe I will enjoy the sequels more, that is if I read them soon before I forget the story again! Will Ave Maria's newfound belief in love last with the happy ever after ending of this novel?
I do appear to be in the minority with my opinions though, so maybe I just happened to read this at the wrong time twice to fully appreciate it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mosaic by Soheir Khashoggi

Basically a story of love and betrayal as one woman fights for her children. What made this interesting for me was the clash of cultures and traditions as it was set in New York and Jordan. Dina and Karim Ahmedare are from Lebanese and Jordain backgrounds, living in New York they appeared on the surface to have a happy marriage combined with successful careers and a family life together. Or so it seemed to Dina until one day her life is turned upside down when her husband vanishes with their six year old twins, Suzanne and Ali. After a normal day at her floral design business Mosaic she is bewildered to find the appartment empty on her return home.
It seems that Dina was completely unaware of her husbands plans and how he had been feeling about their life together in New York. Ahmed has become very disillusioned with the western lifestyle, especially post 9/11. He is also determined that his younger children should not turn out like their teenage bother Jordan. So feeling that he no longer wants the twins exposed to American culture he has decided without consulting his wife that they should grow up in Jordan. When Dina realises that her husband has kidnapped his own children she turns for emotional support to her best friends Emmeline and Sarah, also both successful career women and mothers. Whilst they are helping Dina in her plight we also learn something of their own backgrounds and lifestyles.
Although I enjoyed the story and was not expecting more than a chick lit style read I would have liked it if the author had developed the characters more. I felt they were all rather superfical.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Why on earth did this sit on my bookshelf for so long before I got around to reading it? It is an absolute delight and I kept reading and laughing when I should have been sleeping.
It is a tragic comedy about a Ukrainian family domiciled in the Uk for many years. The protagonist is the widowed elderly father of Nadezhda and Vera who falls in love with a Ukrainian many years his junior. The subject of his misguided love is Valentina who plans to exploit him and marry him as a means of staying in the UK along with her son Stanislav. The two sisters have not had a close relationship but they are drawn closer in their bid to prevent Valentina stepping in and taking over their mother Ludmilla's place in their former home.
The characters are all extremely well portrayed and I found it easy to visualise them all from brassy Valentina to the two womens lonely and lecherous Pappa. There are some very amusing descriptions in the book, particularly involving these two characters.

As well as hearing details of the battle against Valentina from the narrator Nadezhda we also learn something of the families history and their reasons behind leaving the Ukraine, which is both sorrowful and believable. Heedless of the upset he is causing around him throughout the story Pappa continues with his lifes work trying to complete a written history of the tractor. I did not find these sections of particular interest but by the end realised the relevance.

I now plan to read Two Caravans as soon as possible.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Gathering by Anne Enright

I was looking forward to reading this, as from the blurb plus the fact it was a Booker prize winner, it sounded like just the sort of novel I would enjoy. In fact it was a complete let down that I was glad to finish as it was so depressing. It was not difficult to read just for my taste the narrator Veronica's obsession with guilt over the death of her brother Liam just became somewhat boring and depressing.
The idea of reading the story of the Hegarty family, Midge, Bea, Ernest, Stevie, Ita, Mossie, Liam, Veronica, Kitty, Alice and the twins Ivor and Jem as the nine surviving children of the clan gathered in Dublin for the funeral of Liam was initially appealing as had been promised a novel about love and disappointment. A cast of potenially interesting characters that I never got to know at all, as none of them are given any personality by the narrator, Veronica.
Veronia is angry and finds fault in everything in her own life after the death of Liam the brother she was closest. Her childhood memories and imaginings of her grandparents and parents lives are all detailed, as her own sanity hangs in the balance as she tries to come to terms with the guilt and grief. Love and disappointment but certainly not from the angle I was expecting as the entire novel is a narration direct from Veronica's confused mind.
Technically a well written novel but I read for enjoyment not to get depressed. I am somewhat surprised that it won the 2007 Man Booker Prize , it is certainly not the title I would have voted for, my vote would have gone to On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, but then I am no expert.

Life Swap by Jane Green

What a boring novel! I found this terribly dull and flat with page after page of repetitive descriptions of the life styles of the two shallow protagonists Amber and Vicky. Amber Winslow the American social climber, full time wife and mother and Vicky Townsley the single successful English girl leading a tough but hectic life as Features Director of a magazine. The theme of the novel is as the title implys a Life Swap between these two women neither of whom is satisfied with her life. The swap is therefore to see if it is true that in theory the grass is always greener and at the same time provide good magazine copy.
I know this is chick lit and I chose to read it as easy entertainment not expecting a great literary work, but I would have appreciated a story that either I can relate to in some way or has some excitement to offer.
This was not even entertaining so why did I bother? I suppose I just kept hoping it might improve, but it didn't, in fact the ending was as much of a let down as the rest of the book.
I have read three other titles by Jane Green of which I have no recollection at all, somehow I do not think I will be going out of my way to read any more of her novels. That is not saying that I cannot see the appeal they may have to others, just not for me. Too old maybe not the market the author is aiming to appeal to!

The Hotel on the Roof of the World by Alec Le Sueur
Alec Le Sueur was posted as a Sales Manager to the quote “unlikeliest Holiday Inn in the world.” He works there for five years and in writing ‘The Hotel On The Roof Of The World’ he has given a fascinating insight into life in Tibet generally.
As for what happens within the hotel walls, the descriptions will have you both laughing and squirming at the trials and tribulations the staff had to contend with.This book can be read and enjoyed as either a travelogue or a hotel sitcom. Although it is a true account you must bear in mind that Lhasa and the hotel itself may well have changed considerably since the book was first published in 1998.
I will definitely be encouraging my husband and then my daughter to read this one.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tell it to the Skies by Erica James

Tell it to the Skies by Erica James have enjoyed reading the novels written by Erica James since her first one ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’ was published in 1996. With the exception of a couple that I have not got hold of yet I have now read all her novels. I regard her work as a thoroughly good read where you can immerse yourself in the story, not great literature but so much better than some of the novels regarded as ‘chick lit’or ‘romantic womens fiction’. Set partially in Venice with my love of Italy I very quickly found myself immersed in the surroundings and the story. The novel starts in Venice as the scene is set for the protagonist Lydia, having lived in Italy for twenty-eight years, sees a face in a crowded street that takes her back to her childhood and a dark secret she has kept to herself all these years. The central part of the novel is concerned with Lydia telling the story of her past life to her brother in law. We learn of her difficult childhood and how the consequences of her actions have led her to where she is today. The last section of the novel is in the present back in Venice where her past meets her present and she gets a second chance with the man she has loved all these years. There are a few unexpected twists to the tale that will keep you guessing until the end, romance, mystery, tears and laughter you will find them all within the pages of another novel from an imaginative story teller.
28 March 2009
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee at all what I was expecting when I added this book to my wish list as a Richard and Judy recommendation I was really expecting it to be a humorous novel about a couple moving to a retirement village and the young wife causing chaos as we learnt of her past lives.. How wrong could I have been, as I actually found it disturbing and somewhat depressing, though strangely still a reasonable read.The protagonist is Pippa Lee and one of the quotes on the back cover describes her as the sort of woman you would want as a friend. I misconstrued this quote before reading the book, as in fact I did not like Pippa Lee at all and I think what the quote really means is she is the sort of woman you would certainly not want as an enemy! Hated by her mother and now hated by her daughter Pippa is a very complex and disturbed person who had led the most extraordinary life style both before and after her marriage to a man thirty years older than her. The story starts in the present when she and her husband have just moved to a retirement village and it is only when the story takes you back in time to Pippa’s birth that you start to realise exactly how strange the past private lives of Pippa Lee have been. By the time we are back in the present day the novel is racing towards its somewhat rushed ending with a very strange happening about ten pages before the end. I would have preferred to read a few more chapters tying up the loose ends.

28 March 2009
Twilight in Venice by Steven Carroll protagonists, Paolo Fortuny retired Venetian musician and Lucy McBride a young musician studying in Venice.Since her early teens Lucy has been obsessed with Paolo Fortuny, the man and his talent as a cellist. It is all her dreams come true when she goes to study in Venice and manages to persuade the Maestro himself to teach her.Having given up performing in public Fortuny is no longer a happy man. Lucy is like a breath of fresh air as she enters his life and gives him hope for the future. Unfortunately for both of them Lucy becomes more than just his pupil, but the object of his intense passion, which neither of them is in the end able to deal with. I found this an intense and sad love story; though obvious that it was an ill-fated love affair for me the ending was a complete surprise. If a love story with evocative descriptive prose set in one of the most beautiful cities in the world appeals to you, then this would be a good choice.

21 March 2009
The Simple Rules of Love by Amanda Brookfield sequel to 'Relative Love' we are treated to another year in the eventful life of the Harrison family. New relationships are formed, old ones fail, a wedding, a baby and a bombing a period of caos; that by the end of the year and the book has all settled down and been happily sorted out. Amanda Brookfield has once again written about the complications of everyday family life in her observant style, transporting you into the heart of the Harrison family for a few hours.The review I wrote for Relative Love would do just as well for this sequel as it was also for me a slow read, a month (chapter) a day again and long 597 pages. The only difference was this time I felt I knew the cast of characters at the start. This is the review I wrote in December last year.A novel about family relationships with a huge cast of characters I had become quite fond of them by the time I finished the 534 pages. It was an undemanding read but unusually for me rather a slow one, I managed to read a month (chapter) a day! The novel follows the life of a family and those around them for one year from a December early in the 21st century to the following November. The Harrison family are the protagonists of the story. Pamela and John are the parents and live in Ashley House the rambling family home in the depths of Sussex. Weekends, holidays and other special occasions see their children Peter, Charlie, Elizabeth and Cassie gathering together at the family home along with their spouses and offspring. Every member of the family struggles with problems and or secrets in their lives as the apparently secure and happy unit starts to unravel exposing them all to the frailty of life and love.By coincidence just after I finished reading this I received a present quite unexpectedly of the sequel ‘The Simple Rules of Love’, so I can look forward to many more hours with the Harrison family.It really is just more of the same, just a few years on. If you like this sort of family saga it is an enjoyable and easy read.

07 March 2009
Whitethorn Woods by Maeve Binchy easy and pleaseant enough read but I felt disappointed that this was not the compelling read I have enjoyed in the past from Maeve Binchy. The characterisation was as good as it always is so I think it was the format that did not work for me.I am not a fan of short stories and although this is not short stories as such, each chapter is a vaguely related story told by different people with links to Rossmore. We learn of each person's feelings about the sacred well in Whitethorn Woods and how they feel about the proposed bypass for the town. Normally Maeve Binchy draws the different characters together in to the main body of the story, but that really did not happen this time. However all the seemingly unconnected characters do have links to the town of Rossmore, sometimes very strongly.I think Whitethorn Woods may have worked better if it had been marketed as short stories, but then I would have given it a miss. That however would have been a shame as there is no doubt that it is cleverly put together.

27 February 2009
The Visitor by Anita Burgh a fan of Anita Burgh since 1996 I was delighted to have recently obtained a copy of The Visitor published in 2003. It is the closing year of the 19th Century and the story relates the adventures of the protagonist Phoebe Drewett as she escapes her cruel father by running away from her Dartmoor home. From September 1899 to the Spring of 1901 we follow sixteen year old Phoebe's growth into maturity as she looses her innocence. Her meetings and interactions with the Bartholemew and Randolph-Smythe families are cleverly interlinked in this compelling story of suspense, romance which will also make you laugh. Phoebe is wonderfully portrayed as the determined young girl whose head is full of daydreams, but she is going to let nothing get her down. She, certainly needed this strength to cope with her involvement with the likes of Kendall Bartholemew and Arnold and Agnes Randolph-Smythe. Complicated relationships of love and hate have serious consequences for all the characters.I can recommend this to anyone who enjoys Anita Burghs novels, actually to anyone who enjoys a good historical story.

15 February 2009
The World From Italy are many travelogue type books that have been written in recent years about Italy. Living in Italy myself for the past five years and before then always having been a great fan of Italy I have read a great number of them. My husband and I both read this one and found it disappointingly boring, maybe it was just too dated having been written in 1999, or we just disliked the author's style. I am really not sure, maybe as the author is a football journalist there was just too much bias to football for my liking. Although he makes some interesting and true observations about Italians and their life style there was nothing really that has not been said by other authors. In my opinion there are dozens of other Italian travelogues that will entertain more.

08 February 2009
The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville novel was for me an introduction to the writing of Australian writer Kate Grenville. It was passed on to me by an Australian Bookcrossing friend, while she was visiting Italy last year and I have been looking forward to reading it since then. I am really glad that she warned me that the characters in this novel are not typical Australians, as they are certainly a strange collection of eccentrics!In my opinion it took the first two thirds of the book for the story to build, the last third was the most enjoyable. However althought I felt that although the story line was somewhat weak the characters were strongly portrayed especially the protagonists, Douglas and Harley also Felicity the bankers wife and Mr Chang the butcher.The story is based in and around the bush town of Karakarook, although the two protagonists actually come from out of town. They are a strange pair whom you would never expect to be attracted to each other, but it is between this socially inept couple that romance blossoms! The story is at times as painful and cringe making as it is touching and laugh out loud funny.There is an old bent bridge in Karakarook and Douglas is there to replace it, whilst Harley is there to save it by helping set up a museum as an attraction to tourists. It is no surprise really that the book felt slow as it is perhaps reflecting the way of life in the Australian bush. Not one thing about life or the people in Karakarook seems perfect in complete contrast to the title The Idea of Perfection!

02 February 2009
Slam by Nick Hornby
Athough I enjoyed reading this witty insight into teenage parenthood I did feel that maybe Hornby had written this for young adults. I would certainly recommend it as obligatory reading material for the early teens age group. Reading this would maybe help them to understand the problems of not considering the consequences of having a sexual relationship!
The story is written from the viewpoint of Sam, an eighteen year old young man who two years previously had become a teenage parent. It happened at a time in his life when he had felt that things were just beginning to click into place. He was getting on well with his mother, had plans for going to college and had a lovely girlfriend Alicia.Then Alicia gets pregnant unexpectedly and the young couple find themselves confronted with adult problems which they are unable to cope with alone. However they are fortunate to have very supportive parents. Sam's account of the situation has some very funny scenes and some of his comments seen from an adult point of view are very amusing.
So I feel that even if I this book was not particularly aimed at me personally it is well written and I think it will appeal to others.

29 January 2009
Second Glance by Jodi Picoult
Having only discovered the work of Jodi Picoult just over two years ago, this is already the eighth title that I have read. I think it is therefore safe to say that I enjoy her novels.
This one is a ghost story and although I do not disbelieve in them I am somewhat sceptical. Seeing is believing so you never know, maybe one day. I think therefore that my scepticism was the reason that I was long way into the story nearly two hundred pages before I really began to appreciate properly what was going on. Once the storyline made sense I began to enjoy it much more, although I would not say it was amongst my favourites. Although the author herself said in August 2008, that Second Glance her tenth novel wrritten in 2003, to date was her personal favourite.
Although the book is a work of fiction the work of the Vermont Eugenics Project actually exsisted as did the Sterilization Law of 1931. A disturbing practice to prevent problem citizens reproducing, similar to the plans of the Nazis for racial cleansing! Once again Jodi Picoult impresses me with her choice of a controversial subject to base a novel on.
Ghosts, Abenaki Indians and Eugenics Research link the characters and the periods of 1932 and 2001 together in an excellent example of mixing fact and fiction and the past with the present.
There are so many twists and turns in the story that I was never quite sure what was going to happen next. I am only sorry that it took me so long to sort all the characters out in the early part of the book as once it all slipped into place it was a great read. I may well have given up if I had not already been a fan of Jodi Picoult and that would have been a shame.

18 January 2009
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
Gideon Mack is a minister in the Scottish church, being the rebellious son of a domineering father, also a minister; it seems a strange choice of career, especially as he does not believe in God! It is a thought provoking and humorous story that has continued to haunt me since finishing it a few days ago. He leads a fairly lively ministerial life and raises money for the church by running in marathons. One day his life is changed for ever when out running he comes across a ‘standing stone’ that is not actually there, only he sees it!
He decides to write the story of his life and recent strange occurrences in it; it is this manuscript that falls into the hands of a publisher. So we have Gideon Mack’s story told within the story of the publishing house trying to obtain verification of Gideon’s manuscript. Did Gideon really spend time with the devil or are his memoirs just the ramblings of a man on the verge of some sort of emotional breakdown?

A compelling narrative that will leave you thinking about the nature and understanding of faith and how you interpret things you cannot logically explain. It has certainly left me thinking, what more can I ask from a good novel.

23 December 2008
The Gypsy Madonna by Santa Montefiore
Another enjoyable read from Santa Montefiore, a love story with an underlying mystery. Mischa is the protagonist, born during WWII in France to Anouk and her German husband. After the liberation they are ostracized by the majority of the villagers in Maurillac where they live and work in a local chateau. Mischa has been severely effected and the trauma is thought to be the reason for his inability to speak. He has no friends apart from Pistou, a young ghost whom only he sees, a young local girl Claudine and Joy a regular guest at the chateau.
When Coyote a mysterious and enchanting American turns up at the chateau with his guitar he has a dramatic effect on the lives of Anouk and Mischa. So much changes with his arrival and they leave France for a new life in America with him.
It is only after his mother’s death many years later that Mischa discovers and unravels a mystery from his childhood involving a valuable unrecorded painting by a famous artist.
A good book to curl up with for an easy and relaxing read.

06 December 2008
Relative Love by Amanda Brookfield
A novel about family relationships with a huge cast of characters I had become quite fond of them by the time I finished the 534 pages. It was an undemanding read but unusually for me rather a slow one, I managed to read a month (chapter) a day! The novel follows the life of a family and those around them for one year from a December early in the 21st century to the following November. The Harrison family are the protagonists of the story. Pamela and John are the parents and live in Ashley House the rambling family home in the depths of Sussex. Weekends, holidays and other special occasions see their children Peter, Charlie, Elizabeth and Cassie gathering together at the family home along with their spouses and offspring. Every member of the family struggles with problems and or secrets in their lives as the apparently secure and happy unit starts to unravel exposing them all to the frailty of life and love.
By coincidence just after I finished reading this I received a present quite unexpectedly of the sequel ‘The Simple Rules of Love’, so I can look forward to many more hours with the Harrison family.

22 November 2008
Love in the Present Tense by Catherine Ryan Hyde
On my reading list due to being a Richard and Judy recommended read. According to the cover it is the magical story of a young boy’s search for his mother.
I have not read a book I have been so disappointed in for a long time finding it a thoroughly boring and disjointed story of unconditional love.
In theory it sounded Ok, three protagonists Leonard, the little boy deserted by his mother at the age of five. Pearl his very young teenage mother who leaves him a neighbour’s care one day and never returns, finally Mitch the neighbour. The chapters are narrated by each of the three and right from the very first one I had my doubts, finding it difficult to relate to the characters or the situation. I kept reading as far as page 120 in the hope it would start to make sense. It didn’t and I have so many other books waiting to be read that I finally decided it was a waste of time. I am sorry because I rarely give up on a book. I have read some other reviews to see if I was just missing the point and it appears I must have been Somehow I feel let down by this one but I appear to be very much in the minority!

22 November 2008
House of Orphans by Helen Dunmore
Although this book is titled 'House of Orphans', we actually meet very few orphans, in fact only Eeva, female protagonist of the story, and Anna Lusa, who runs the orphanage. The orphanage is just used to set the scene for the story of Eeva because it is to the orphanage that she is sent when her father, a revolutionary and her only family dies.
When she is older the orphanage places her in service with a widowed doctor who finds himself falling in love with her. So he is somewhat relieved when she decides to return to live in her home town of Helsinki, to be near her childhood sweetheart Lauri. Now a grown man himself he has also become involved in the fight for freedom against the Russians.
An opportunity for me to learn about somewhere I knew nothing about historically it is an absorbing account of life in Finland in the early 1900s. I preferred the earlier part of the book which is centred on Eeva’s childhood growing up in the Finnish countryside and must admit to finding myself less interested in the account of the political turmoil once the story transferred to Helsinki.

A compassionate story of love and loneliness set against an interesting background.

17 November 2008
Addition by Toni Jordan
Another review I read referred to this book as quirky which I think is a good description. It is a strangely disturbing but at the same time humorous read. It is certainly a novel with a very unusual theme.

Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts due to the fact that she suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. This is a far from easy condition to live with and not an easy subject to write about in a humorous manner. Somehow Toni Jordan has succeeded and although I found the subject matter disturbing there is humour in this love story.
Grace counts just about everything in her life from letters in peoples names, steps she takes to get from place to another and the number of bites needed to eat a meal! The letters in her name (19) are identical to those of Seamus Joseph O’Reilly also a (19), the man she meets who befriends her, which helps her in those first tentative steps towards accepting his friendship.
Their relationship blooms but it takes Grace a long time to come to terms with the fact that although she will always have behavioural problems there are people who love her for herself. There is no doubt that Grace’s OCD has interfered with her life for many years and she has more than once made unsuccessful attempts to overcome it. Seamus is incredibly patient with Grace and eventually it all works out for them thanks to Grace realising that ‘Average does not mean normal’

I do not think this would make easy reading for anyone who themselves suffers from COD

13 November 2008
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
Even after 426 pages I am still not sure if I ever really understood what all the background themes in this family saga meant. The ending left me just as confused as the start if I am honest.
I found the story of two working class Australian families over a period of twenty years starting towards the end of the WWII interesting enough though I did not understand a lot of the Australian slang used. The Pickles and the Lambs family lives become thoroughly intertwined after the Lambs become lodgers sharing ‘Cloudstreet’ the enormous haunted house that the Pickles inherited in Perth. Everything that could possibly happen to these two families did so covering the spectrums of joy and happiness all the way to depression and misery, Tim Winton writes very vividly about life and the characters are all well portrayed, I felt drawn into their emotions. There are a lot of characters to keep track of though with five people in the Pickles family and eight in the Lambs, the story sometimes feels a little slow and rambling.

As I have already mentioned I found the style of writing confusing, so although I gather he is very popular in Australia, I doubt I will read any more of his work.

11 November 2008
The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble
I have not read Margaret Drabble’s entire extensive list of novels, but I have always enjoyed them from as far back as I can recall. I think the first one I read was Jerusalem the Golden in 1967 and over forty years later she is still writing entertaining and literary novels.
The humour and excellent characterisation is up to the author’s normal high standards.
‘The Seven Sisters’ is not written in chapters but in four parts, which made it a little harder to know at what point to stop for sleep, although it is mostly divided into journal type entries. Part One ‘Her Diary’ consists of the journal entries of the protagonist Candida Wilton describing the changes in her lifestyle as a recently divorced woman who has moved from Suffolk to London. She describes her circumstances both past and present and introduces us through her diary to her friends old and new. An unexpected windfall leads her and a group of friends to plan a cultural trip to Tunisia and Italy. Part Two ‘An Italian Journey’ describes the journey of the seven sisters, Candida, Cynthia Barclay, Ida Jerrold, Sally Hepburn, Julia Jordan, Anais Al-Sayyab and Valeria. The latter is the guide for the trip, making the seventh and the rest are friends of Candida’s old and new. We follow the ladies as friendships are strengthened on the journey that most of them have long dreamed of to Tunis, Naples and Pompeii in the footsteps of Virgil’s Aeneid. Part Three titled ‘Ellen’s Version was for me a complete and unexpected twist to the tale. As was the final twist and ending in Part Four ‘A Dying Fall’ to say more here will spoil it for other readers.

This novel will probably appeal to women of a certain age; whether or not they are already fans of Margaret Drabble.

06 November 2008
The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella
Sophie Kinsella is not a novelist I normally chose to read, although I am well aware of her popularity in the chick-lit genre. This happened to come my way when I was looking for a quick and easy read so I decided to give it a go. I have only read one other title by her and I remember nothing at all about it, which did not bode particularly well.

It actually exceeded my expectations and turned out to be an amusing read even if the storyline was rather predictable and clichéd. There were certainly some situations that ring very true for those that hold down high powered jobs in the city in the 21st century.
The protagonist is high flying London lawyer Samantha whose work is her life 24/7 with no time for relaxation or pleasure, even her love life is time-tabled. One day after thinking she has made the biggest business mistake ever she just leaves her life behind and disappears. Somehow she finds herself accepting her job as a housekeeper, strange when she is so undomesticated. The couple that she works for Trish and Eddie Geiger are the most dreadfully stupid pair, so funny. Samantha gets herself into a tangle with her new employers, but somehow all problems are so easily overcome that she soon finds her feet, begins to enjoy life, falls in love with the gardener and solves the mystery of why she lost her job. Eventually she discovers for herself what she really wants out of life with a suitably predictable happy ending.

I admit it was better than I expected, although I will not rush to read all her other novels. If you are hopelessly undomesticated or stressed out with your career this will make you laugh and take your mind off your own problems.
As a point of interest Sophie Kinsella also writes as Madeline Wickham. I have read an enjoyed six novels written by her with this pseudonym. I can only think that is maybe because they are directed at a slightly older market?

04 November 2008
Plotting for Beginners by Sue Hepworth
An undemanding read and apart from being very funny in places does not have much of a story.
It was more along the lines of Bridget Jones Diary, although nothing like as good in my opinion. It is the diary, plus a few emails of Sally Howe, fifty plus, menopausal and an aspiring writer. Her husband has taken a one year sabbatical from their thirty plus year marriage and gone to live in the wilderness.
Her plans for the year were to make a success of her writing by getting her work published. She does succeed in her aim, well sort of but not without some amusing distractions. She does not have the chance to be lonely, or even enjoy the peace and quiet. With her brother turning up to stay and a cast of others vying for her attentions, she has plenty of material to use for her writing.

Some of whom are very amusing characters; whose portrayals by Sally in her diary were the reason I kept reading. Worth reading if you do not expect more than a good laugh.

02 November 2008
Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
Eskibahce is a town in which for centuries Christians and Muslims lived peacefully together for hundreds of years. Their peaceful life in a beautiful but wild and isolated region is shattered when Greeks and Turks declare war against each others nations. Philothei and Ibrahim a Christian and a Muslim, devoted to each other since childhood, are the main protagonists amongst a cast of many, which link the novel together. This is not just the story of their relationship but that of the rest of the community of Eskibahce as well, where Christians and Muslims had lived together quite happily until the so called Holy War disturbs the peace.
The characters and the setting were interesting and the story flowed well, with the various inhabitants of the town telling us stories through their eyes. Rustem Bey, Iskander the Potter and Karatavuk were my favourites, with some heart-wrenching tales to tell.
I think I would have enjoyed it even more with a little less history. I got a bit bogged down at times, especially with the chapters concerning Mustafa Kemal, over twenty of them. Some of the war scenes are horrific and this book has certainly taught me about the history of that part of the world. I also understand I think a little more about the racial problems that still linger there in the 21st century.

22 October 2008
Cause Celeb by Helen Fielding
This is the first novel by Helen Fielding of Bridget Jones fame which she wrote in 1994. Surprisingly I never read until now. It is a satirical story full of both ridiculous and tragic events about what happens when celebrity aid comes to the help of famine relief in Africa. It is this angle that makes this novel more than just another chick lit type novel. It is I read a subject Helen Fielding is interested in and she has worked in producing documentaries for relief for such famines.
The heroine Rosie Richardson is living in London, working in publishing when we first meet her. After a disastrous relationship with Oliver Marchant a minor television celebrity who turns out to be cruel and manipulative she becomes disillusioned with her lifestyle. As a complete life change she heads for Africa to work as a Director of a refugee camp, for a charity. Four years later famine strikes and desperate for funds Rosie decides to use her celebrity acquaintances to raise emergency funds by organising a television appeal from the camp itself.
Towards the end of the novel the descriptions of the human suffering are powerful and disturbing. It is fourteen years since this novel was written and sadly many parts of the world are still suffering in such a way, despite worldwide campaigns to try and reduce such incidents.
I quote from the novel direct as I think it is an excellent reaction of the horrors as viewed by the aid workers and celebrities. ‘It was such a monumental horror that it felt as though nothing should be the same any more, nothing should continue: none of us should speak or do anything, the sun should not be moving across the sky and the wind should not blow. It did not seem possible that such a thing as this could be taking place without the world having to shudder to a halt and think again.’
This might start out seeming like a lightweight novel but it certainly does not leave you feeling that way at the end!

21 October 2008
A Brother's Journey by Richard B. Pelzer
This book tells more about the abuse suffered by the Pelzer boys at the hands of their Mother. This time the tale is told by David’s younger brother Richard. It once again horrified me that their mother was able to act, unstopped by the authorities in such a drunken, violent and mentally unstable manner. Especially as it sounds from what Richard has to say that they lived in a respectable suburb of San Francisco and the neighbours were well aware of what went on behind closed doors. After David was removed from the family home when Richard was only eight years old he became the main victim of his Mother’s cruelty. For years he suffered and when he reached fifteen he was taller and stronger than her and still taking it all when by now he could have stopped her with his physical strength. It was then he realised that all his life he had been desperate for his mother to love the little boy called Richard.
Why oh why is this sort of heartbreakingly cruel situation still happening time and time again even in today’s more aware society.

18 October 2008
The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
This book is obviously a great literary achievement, must be as it won the Booker prize. Although I found this very well written from a purely literary viewpoint I just could not get into the story and just found it boring! I almost feel guilty admitting this as it seems that the majority of reviewers consider it brilliant. I however struggled to keep reading and it took me so long to do so, for me a sign that it lacked appeal.
It is an exploration of the 1980’s through the eyes of the protagonist Nicholas Guest, a young graduate from Oxford, exploring his homosexuality. He lodges with the family of a friend from Oxford, Toby whose address just happens to be one of the best in London as his father is Tory MP Gerald Fedden. We therefore gain an insight into the lifestyle of a wealthy MP and his family including his manic depressive daughter Catherine, Nick seems to be one of the only people she trusts.
In reading this you will certainly get an insight into the unpleasant excesses of the Thatcher years and Nick’s desire to be part of the wealthy world of greed and politics that he is mixing in. He never quite fits in though and in the end even gets the blame for the failures of others as scandal and death overwhelm him.

Without a doubt this a beautifully written novel but it just did not appeal to me.

09 October 2008
The Moon at Midnight by Charlotte Bingham
Charlotte Bingham is a very prolific writer of both novels and television dramas. I first read one of her books ten years ago and this is only the sixth title of hers since then. I do not think therefore that I would consider her one of my favourite authors, though I have always found they provide readable enjoyable escapism.

The Moon at Midnight is a very easy read; the only concentration required is to remember the relationships. Even that is sorted as the author thought fully provides family trees for us at the beginning. When I started reading this I had no idea that is the final book of a trilogy which started with The Chestnut Tree. The paperback I read makes no mention of this at all, it was only when I found some of the characters names familiar that I checked. I read the first of the trilogy earlier this year but even now have no idea what the middle one is even called, it obviously is not necessary to read all three!
Of the four girls who were the protagonists of The Chestnut Tree, three are still alive and are again protagonists of the final part of the trilogy, although they are no longer young girls but married women with families of their own. The Moon at Midnight is set in the sixties some twenty plus years since we last met the characters. It is once again set in Bexham the Sussex fishing port which never seems effected by change until now with the new generation having very different aspirations from those of their parents. Of the new generation of Bexham residents we are introduced to Max, Jennifer, Sholto, Kim, Hubert, Tam and Flavia.Once again the generations find themselves united in battle this time to protect the village they all love.
So it was that Bexham came to be saved!

06 October 2008
The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe
It was the title that attracted me to this book and I thought the quote from a different book at the beginning of each chapter was a clever idea for each one’s theme. Unfortunately though I did not find the story at all enjoyable in fact it was just plain boring.
I really dislike writing a bad review as I know it is far from easy to write a novel and criticising one is something that I feel uncomfortable about.
The cover stated that it is ‘A remarkable novel of the power of friendship’. In my opinion it was far from remarkable, just stereotyped stories of five women who were friends and members of The Book Club.

There was Eve, unexpectedly widowed in her forties and suddenly finding herself struggling financially. Annie the successful career woman desperate for a baby before her biological clock fails her, suddenly has to come to terms with a much more serious health issue, than being unable to conceive. Doris is the mousey wife, with the demanding and bullying husband; who becomes so depressed on discovering her husband’s infidelity. Midge the artistic free spirit whose mother suddenly decides she wants to be more involved in her daughters life and finally Gabriella the perfect friend, wife and mother, coping with a long term unemployed husband. To me this was just another conventional romance with absolutely nothing to surprise the reader.

03 October 2008
Mercy by Jodi Picoult
I first discovered this author two years ago and have enjoyed reading every one of the previous six novels, which I have read so far. ‘Mercy’ is another typical Jodi Picoult formulaic novel published in the USA in 1996, but not in the UK until last year. I felt that this is one of her early novels shows in the lack of balance that she has acquired as her writing style has matured. Normally I am drawn quickly into the story but this time I struggled to keep reading, I was about a third of the way through before I felt much emotion and I just did not generally like it much. As this is the first disappointment I have experienced with reading her novels it has certainly not put me off her writing.

Her novels are definitely formulaic and it seems always were. She always successfully seems to manage to tackle moral and sensitive subjects. This time tackling the themes of euthanasia, betrayal and infidelity within marriage; through two relationships that of Maggie and Jamie and Cam and Allie.
It is cancer that comes between the first couple and Mia another woman between the latter pair.
Jamie has killed his wife out of mercy and is now on trial for murder, whilst Allie the submissive wife copes with her husband’s betrayal.
In a twist to the story the characters are related to each other as the inhabitants of ‘Wheelock’ USA are nearly all Macdonalds who were originally from ‘Carrymuir’ Scotland By tradition the clan chief is in modern days the police chief! Not really sure why we needed the flashbacks or the love letters interspersed through the text. Maybe I missed the point completely with these two aspects within the story.
Interesting enough; but certainly for me not up to the standard of her more recent novels.

25 September 2008
Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore
I am not surprisingly, considering where I currently live, drawn to novels set in Italy. This turned out to be not as atmospheric as one might have hoped, but it was still a reasonable easy read for a sunny afternoon.

Romantic escapism set in England and Italy in the 1940’s and the 1970’s, the novel starts with a Prologue telling us about an honour murder committed at the end of WWII. This mystery behind this murder is finally solved in the 1970’s when Alba, the young female protagonist of the story, goes to Italy seeking the truth about her heritage.
Her father Thomas Arbuckle had fallen in love with Valentina an Italian during WWII. After the war ended he returned to England with a babe in arms, Alba, but no Valentina as she is dead.
In the 1970’s Alba is now a young woman who does not get on with her step-mother or step- siblings and hates country living. Thanks to her father’s generosity and desire to keep her happy, whilst refusing to ever mention her birth mother she lives a selfish life full of fun on her father’s houseboat in London. The only concession ever made to her Italian roots was encouraging her to learn Italian. As a young woman who has never met any of her mother’s relatives, or even been to Italy, she yearns to learn more about her Italian roots.
It is the discovery of a portrait of her mother that finally makes Alba travel to Italy on a journey into the past which changes her future and her for ever.
Although I think I understand what the author was saying in the Epilogue, I still found the ending a disappointment. Not the ending I had hoped for or expected!

22 September 2008
The Golden Cup by Marcia Willett
I have been reading novels written by Marcia Willett since 1995 and this is the eleventh title, so I think it is safe to say I enjoy her stories. They are always an engrossing read and this one is no exception.
Set in Cornwall it is a gentle family saga which starts slowly introducing us gradually to the characters and the surroundings that the estate of ‘Paradise’ is set in. ‘Paradise’ is the family home of the Trevannion family and the current head of the family is Honor Tevannion. At the start of the novel she is already elderly frail and bedridden, the arrival of a young American researching his family history causes her to become very distressed. It is as a result of this visitor that long kept family secrets surface. The family are faced with revelations that change their lives.
The story unfolds as Honor entrusts her granddaughter Joss with the task of revealing her long kept secrets by directing her to a hidden cache of letters written long ago when Honor first arrived back in Cornwall as a young widow. It is through these letters that we are told Honor’s story and become involved in the lives of the Trevannion family.
If you a fan of Marcia Willet this is another one worth reading and if this is your first chance to read her work you will find it a compassionate family saga.

19 September 2008
The Second Wife by Elizabeth Buchan
As a sequel to the revenge of The Middle Aged Woman this worked well. I was definitely left at the end of it wondering how it would all work out for Nathan, Minty and Rose.
Well now I know exactly how Nathan and Minty’s marriage turned out. It is now some years later and they have twin sons Lucas and Felix and we learn how their marriage is working, in comparison to those of Gisela and Roger, Paige and Martin, both relationships beset with problems. As for Rose the deserted forty-something woman in the first novel, she has weathered the storm well and although she would not have chosen to be so, is an independent and successful career woman.
So what happens when the mistress becomes the wife? Still the villain of the story Minty has grown up since seducing Nathan. She is now a mature married woman with a family to consider who finds herself extremely unsettled by the fact that Nathan appears despondent about his life. Everyway Minty turns; she experiences feelings of being ‘second-best’ in Nathan’s life. Neither of them will ever be free of Rose, a constant for various reasons.
One feels sorry for Nathan as he now lives with the consequences of his passionate affair with Minty. Maybe a mistake; but one that many men have made and will continue to do so. Instead of looking forward to freedom with grown up children, he finds himself right back at the beginning again with a young family.
The marital dramas that form the essence of this story are a reflection of those that second wives face every day within the extended family unit.

17 September 2008
The Sea House by Esther Freud
The only other title I have read by this author is Hideous Kinky and I have to admit I enjoyed it more than this one. I found it took me a long time to get into the story and appreciate how the two time periods linked together.
Lily is a young woman studying for a degree in architecture and for her thesis is researching the life and work of architect Klaus Lehmann. She has in her possession aiding her with her studies love letters from Klaus to his wife Elsa. He died nearly fifty years previously in the in the Norfolk coastal village of Steerborough, where he was a resident. To help her piece together the story of his marriage she has decided to rent a cottage in that very same village.
The story swaps about from the current day with Lily immersing herself in the village and her research and realising that all is not as she wants it to be in her relationship with her boyfriend Nick.
The other chapters take us back in time to the fifties, when Elsa was often living alone in the village when Klaus was away working, with only friends Gertrude Jilks and Max Meyer for company. It is through Max’s eyes that we learn about the Steerborough of that period.
We learn of the love and disappointments that both these women face in their lives and how the village itself seems to have an affect on their lives.

In my opinion The Sea House lacked any great passion apart from the excellent geographical descriptions of the village and surrounding countryside.
It was in all a pleasant enough read but did not have a great impact on me.

12 September 2008
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
I found this as engrossing as her debut which I read earlier this year. This time Kate Morton has written an intriguing mystery that started in the 1900’s and is not fully unravelled until 2005. It is told as three stories covering three generations combining to give us clues along the way.
Maybe the ending was a little predictable but I certainly did not guess all the answers to the mysteries along the way.
The protagonist is Nell around who the whole mystery centres. The story starts in London when Nell as a little girl finds herself unexpectedly travelling by ship to Australia alone. The lady she calls the Authoress having mysteriously disappeared instead of looking after her as promised. Arriving in Australia as an orphan she is given a home by Hugh a dock worker who finds her alone on the dockside on her arrival in Maryborough. It is only on her 21st birthday she learns of her mysterious arrival in Australia, a secret that changes her life dramatically.
It is many years later in 1975 that she embarks upon a search for the truth about her birth and early years. Drawn to Cornwall by information she has discovered, she finds herself buying a cottage in the grounds of Blackhurst Manor once owned by the Mountrachet family. She plans to return to England to live in her new cottage after sorting out her affairs back in Australia. However life intervened and Nell never returned to Cornwall, the ownership of the cottage remaining her secret.
On her death in 2005 Nell leaves the cottage as a surprise inheritance to her granddaughter Cassandra. It is while visiting her inheritance that Cassandra finally uncovers the secrets surrounding the Mountrachet family Linus, his wife Adeline, their daughter Rose and cousin Eliza, daughter of Linus’s sister Georgiana.
How are the family all involved in the disappearance of that little girl nearly a hundred years ago?
I am obviously not going to reveal this and spoil the mystery!

I think the author may be a fan of The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett as not only does The Forgotten Garden remind me in some ways of this classic novel but its author makes an appearance in the story!
I read it far too quickly for a novel that is nearly 650 pages. Only took two days. Ok the weather was very hot and I did not feel like doing much else, but to be honest I could not put it down!!

09 September 2008
Star Gazing by Linda Gillard
I have for as long as I can remember had a habit of saving new things as the excitement is often in the anticipation. It is no surprise to me then that I have been saving ‘Star Gazing’. This is Linda Gillards third novel and I enjoyed the previous two so much that this new one held a high element of expectation for me. Hence the saving!

I knew from reading an article by the author that this book was somewhat of an experiment for her in that her heroine was blind and that it was written in the first person. Well I was not disappointed Linda has done so with great success and I loved this latest addition to her I think varied repertoire. No sticking to a formulaic outline for this author.
I loved ‘Star Gazing’ and was glad I had saved it for a time when I knew I could relax and enjoy it without interruptions. I did however find it a rather short and quick read. I think for that reason alone I still prefer A Lifetime Burning as it was an altogether much more substantial novel.

Star Gazing is an unconventional romance set in Edinburgh and the Isle of Skye with descriptions that will have you enthralled and characters that you will become emotionally involved with.
All the protagonists are extremely well portrayed, Marianne, Louisa, Keir and Garth. Set in the period of time from the winter of 2006 to the summer of 2007 the story draws you in to the trials and tribulations of the lives of these four.

The fascinating aspect of the story for me was the fact that the main protagonist Marianne was congenitally blind and how well thanks to Linda Gillard’s descriptions I was able to understand her experience of life. There is one particular scene where Marianne gets lost which had me near to tears with frustration for her. Marianne is portrayed as a strong independent woman but this just makes you realise the difficulties she faces to be so. There was also a point in the story where her decisions were making me so angry.
Keir the man with the chocolate voice (love this analogy)that Marianne meets by chance shares her passion for music and has a wonderful ability of describing what he is seeing to her. I felt at times he was almost too good to be true and he was so patient with Marianne. There was at least one occasion I felt I wanted to shout at him not about patience with her physical abilities but when she was making decisions! His way of describing sights via musical comparisons was intriguing and something I will certainly think about in future.
Lousia her sister and Garth who works for Louisa are the minor characters but they make an important contribution to the story and both made me laugh, relieving some of the sadder elements.

To sum up a modern romance with a unique angle and enough twists and turns and heartache to make it a captivating highly recommended read.
As you will realise if you have read all this review this is a story that will stir your emotions!

05 September 2008
Random Acts of Heroic Love by Danny Scheinmann
This read like two novels for me much of the time and I kept wondering why the author had not just made both these terrific stories into two separate novels. Well it is with good reason and eventually all is revealed and makes sense. Although you will need to make sure you read the epilogue and acknowledgments for full enlightenment.
The stories are those of the two protagonists, Mortiz Daniecki and Leo Deakin, both stories centring on the young mens search for lost love and the powerful effect this has upon their lives. We are first drawn into Leo’s story when he finds himself in hospital, it is 1992 and has apparently survived an accident in which his girlfiend Eleni has died. He has no recall of events at first and the story unfolds as he struggles to come to terms with the loss of the love of his life.
At the beginning of the third chapter we are suddenly introduced to Moritz who is dying but wants to ensure that he finishes telling his young sons the story of his desperate journey across Russia during the time of the Revolution and the first World War. The only thing that keeps him going is his love for Lotte, a girl back home that he has only ever shared one kiss with.
Although I felt I was reading two different novels I did like the way that the author linked them together with notebook entries throughout about the behaviour of other animal species with regard to love. I was also fascinated with the physics lectures that Leo attended and his descriptions about the lives of ants! As for Mortiz and his deathbed story of walking thousands of kilometres over a number of years all on the memory of one kiss it is very moving story of the strength of love.

Overall for me it was a compelling read which I recommend highly.

05 September 2008
African Diary by Bill Bryson
The phrase short and sweet popped into my mind about this 49 page little book about Bill Bryson’s 8 days in Kenya. It is actually a bitter sweet account about the work of the charity organization CARE one of the worlds leading international organizations fighting against poverty. They believe that by working to find the source of a communities problems and solving it they can help make the world a safer and more stable place for us all.
Unfortunately the book is a very superficial glance into the problems that are facing Kenya poverty, war, disease and corruption. However it did its job reminding me that we should be grateful for the small things in life and appreciate the fact that there are millions of people in Africa lacking even the basics for survival.

01 September 2008
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
I started this wondering if Khaled Hosseini’s second novel would be as powerful as ‘The Kite Runner’ It is once again a compelling tale of real life in Afghanistan, this time over a period of thirty or so years, with the complicated political situation forming the background.
The two central characters are Mariam and Laila who unexpectedly thrown together form a very strong friendship. Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of Herat businessman Jalil Kahn and for the first fifteen years of her life she is hidden with her mother Nana in the countryside, so as not to cause the family embarrassment. It is only on the death of her mother that Jalil takes her into his home unwillingly. To Mariam’s distress he very quickly arranges a marriage for her to Rasheed a man thirty years her senior and from the distant town of Kabul. The marriage is not a happy one and Rasheed is an oppressive and resentful husband.
The other protagonist is Laila a late daughter born to neighbours of Mariam and Rasheed in 1978 a time of great uncertainty in Afghanistan. Laila was only two years old when her brothers went off to fight. Neglected by her mother who only lived for her sons Laila grew up becoming very close to a neighbour and friend Tariq. A twist of fate causes these two women to be thrown unexpectedly together and it is a heart wrenching story of the suffering of Afghani women, in the end love for each other and love for Afghanistan conquers all.

29 August 2008
Holy Fools by Joanne Harris
I think this is the sixth novel I have read by Joanne Harris and it is the one I have enjoyed the least.
As with her previous novels the structure of the story is based around witchcraft and religion and a female with a dark secret in her past. This is a pattern I have noticed emerging which obviously works for her but I just hope it does not make reading future novels predictable?

The main protagonists are Juliette, LeMerle, Isabelle and Perette. Set in seventeenth century France Julieette originally from a travelling troupe is now living in a remote abbey. She is in fact hiding from the very man who turns up at the abbey (Le Merle) masquerading as Pere Colombin de Saint-Amand. What a shock to her it was when he turned up at the Abbey with the new Reverend Mother Mere Isabelle as her mentor. Perette the innocent mute is the one that appears to be the most taken in by the sinister LeMerle as he seeks revenge.
Holy Fools was the name often given to God’s innocents dwarfs and idiots that were often found travelling with theatre troupes in the C17th when this story is set. They appear in this story but it is the nuns that are the real Holy Fools this time as Le Merle manipulates them into believing Satan is amongst them.

A cleverly written story of moral angst but not especially to my taste, one I would not have read had it not been by one of my favourite authoresses.

25 August 2008
Gang of Four by Liz Byrski
Another ‘Prime of Life’ novel from Transita, but this one was originally published in Australia. It is actually one of my favourites from this publishing house.
‘Gang of Four’ is what Isabel, Sally, Robin and Grace close friends for nearly twenty years call themselves. They are it is no surprise women of a certain age and are all somehow restless within their lives.
The novel follows the four very different stories of the protagonists as they set about finding themselves in three different continents. Isabel is the first to decide that she needs time and space away from her very dependent family and demanding Mayoral duties. Her decision to spend a year retracing her mother’s European travels is the catalyst for the other three. Sally the unattached art teacher travels to San Francisco to follow up on a thirty year old secret and Robin the lawyer escapes to the countryside to break away from a relationship that is going nowhere. Grace a nurse is the one who does not feel the need at first for change until she also unexpectedly finds herself entering a new phase in her life.
I enjoyed reading this and following the journeys of these four women, it was a page turner as I found myself continually wanting to know what happened next to each one. As the chapters swap from one woman to another you sometimes had to wait for awhile, keeping you guessing until it was time for her turn again. I did guess some of the outcomes though not all and found myself getting emotionally involved, happy, sad and angry! Be warned the last few chapters are particularly moving, well I found them so anyway. I think most readers will find that the stories will give them plenty to think about and will find they have empathy with at least one part of someone’s story. It was certainly a story I was able to empathise with myself, in some parts in a been there done that way.
Although I would I do not think ever take off alone as they all did, my life changing moment was when my husband and I came to live in Italy.

22 August 2008
The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert
In my opinion ‘The Dark Room’ was incomplete and disappointing because it was written as three separate stories. The common link is that they are all set in Germany and are stories about three Germans and the effect that the devastation caused by the Nazis in World War II has on their lives.
They read more like short stories; the first is only 63 pages and is about a young man Helmut. Born in Berlin in 1921 by the time war arrives he is working as a photographer and not fit enough for war service he records the traumas of Berlin during this period with his camera.
The second story, the one I enjoyed most, is 150 pages and set in allied occupied Germany in 1945. It is about a twelve year old girl Hannelore who after the arrest of her Nazi parents leads her younger siblings to safety. I would have liked to see this particular story expanded in to a complete novel or maybe linked with the first one about Helmut.
Finally the story of Micha set in Germany in the late 1990’s, the longest story at 170 pages but the one I liked least. Micha is a young man who has become obsessed with the past of his family and country. He has developed a strong desire to know if his beloved grandfather was guilty of committing any atrocities during the War. Again, I would have preferred to read this as a separate novel?
Although I understand the authors theme within the stories and like the link the title gives to the stories I did not find it a particularly rewarding read overall. I definitely feel I would have enjoyed this more than I did had there been some sort of connection with the protagonists.

19 August 2008
Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson
Needing to clear some space on my bookshelves I have decided to reacquaint myself with Bill Bryson’s travel books before Bookcrossing them.This one was first published in 1995 and the edition on my bookshelf in 1998. I enjoyed reading this travelogue of his tour of the good old UK, many places mentioned of which I have visited during my lifetime. The amusing and often irreverent descriptions of familiar places and British habits were in some cases painfully accurate!
Whilst one might not always agree with Bryson’s viewpoint it is none the less an amusing read, though one must also accept that in some respects it is dated.Certainly worth reading if you are at all interested in Great Britain but remember it was written over thirteen years ago and it has changed even more!
Re-reading this made me quite nostalgic at times especially the last few pages and his concluding comments. Currently living away from Great Britain it gave me an interesting reminder of the things, good and bad, that are unique to that small island where I am proud to say I was born.

12 August 2008
Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson
Needing to clear some space on my bookshelves I have decided to reacquaint myself with Bill Bryson’s travel books before Bookcrossing them.
This one was written in 1990, first published in 1992 and the edition on my bookshelf in 1998. I enjoyed reading this travelogue of his tour of some of the major cities of Europe, many of those mentioned which I have visited myself during the last forty years. Of those that I have not I think that Sofia in particular may well have changed beyond recognition, Eastern Europe having undergone the most changes in the last eighteen years.
Whilst one might not always agree with Bryson’s viewpoint it is none the less an amusing read, though one must also accept that in some aspects it can seem very dated.
Certainly worth reading if you are at all interested in any of the places in Europe he writes about but remember it was written nearly twenty years ago now.

11 August 2008
Redemption by Kay Langdale

Six women with interconnected relationships relate their experiences of love and marriage. Each chapter is devoted to one of them and then the final chapter neatly sorts the links into a happy ending.
The women each relate their stories, first is Sarah who has doubts about her love for her husband Michael. Her confusion is exacerbated by realising she has feelings for his best friend Harry. In chapter two we hear from Harry’s wife Kate who is concerned that she and her husband have grown apart. She fears he does not love her anymore and is having an affair. Next we are introduced to Isobel who was aware that something was troubling her daughter Kate. Despite a good relationship with her she has always been reserved. Isobel’s husband Robert has been dead for nearly twenty years and Kate has always thought her parents marriage was perfect. In fact in its final years it had been ‘a tissue of pretence’ and it is only now that Isobel comes to terms with this and feels able to carry out the gesture she makes to Roberts mistress. Martha was Robert’s mistress for the last four years of his life. Already fifty-eight and married with grown up sons herself. Robert was the “huge, explosive, fire-cracking, world-spinning point of it all.” Martha now lives in an Old Peoples home and it is the night nurse Shelia that provides the next link in the story. Shelia is married to Henry, a marriage she entered as an innocent. Not knowing what she should expect within her marriage she found it very difficult to discuss such things with her doctor. Her secret remains one within the marriage and at the doctor’s suggestion Shelia and Henry are delighted to adopt a son Michael.
Judith is their son’s birth mother and provides the final link in the chain. After many years of silence in a childless marriage she confesses her secret to her husband Tom. Telling him that not only that she had a son, but that she has also set in motion the process of tracking him down via the adoption services.
The final chapter brings the story to its conclusion with all the women appearing to have received absolution and happily come to terms with their secrets. The ending was a little sickly sweet for me.

I read this book as part of a challenge to myself along with other friends to read all the books published by Transita. This one was not particularly dynamic or stimulating but a pleasant read for a sunny summer’s afternoon.

Note, reading other reviews, I seem to be at odds with the majority. I am now wondering why it did not affect me in the same way.

07 August 2008
Early One Morning by Robert Ryan
If I had judged this title by the artwork on its cover or the blurb on the back cover I doubt that I would have chosen to read it. Based on my husband’s recommendation I decided to give it a try. I am so glad that I did as somewhat to my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed this story of the resistance movement in France during WWII.
What made it particularly intriguing was that this novel is based on real events and inspired by the protagonists of the story who were real people. William Grover, an Englishman and Robert Benoist both drove for Bugatti on the European Race Circuits and I believe that to this day trophies in their names are raced for. Eve Aubicq was the beautiful woman whose charms they both fell for. Their relationships and friendships are tested to the limits as these two brave men work for the British government behind enemy lines.
In 2001 a car that has remained submerged since WWII is retrieved from an Austrian Lake. We are then told the incredible story of the devotion and bravery leading up to this event.
At times Early One Morning is emotional and disturbing but it is certainly well worth reading.

02 August 2008
Sea Glass by Anita Shreve the centre of the story are Honora, bank clerk and Sexton, typewriter salesman who meet and marry at the start of the great depression. The love and hardship they face together is beautifully told by Anita Shreve in her very visual style. I am definitely becoming a fan of her work having now read four of her novels including this one.
The main characters all have chapters assigned to them throughout the novel so we can understand how the story progresses from their point of view. We are introduced in this way to McDermott, mill worker and Alphonse the young boy he has chosen to protect, Vivian, wealthy socialite an unlikely group but whose stories all link and merge. There are also a few chapters written as letters from Honora’s mother Alice that helps to link the background information together.

Set in New Hampshire during the troubled years of 1929/30, Sea Glass is about the coming together of a motley collection of people in troubled times. It was a strange time for them all as although the strikes and Wall Street crash were affecting them all they were happy that summer of 1930, in their innocence not knowing how disastrously it would all end. As the reader I certainly had no inkling of how things were going to turn out, for me the sign of a well told story. A heartbreaking and vividly descriptive insight into the far reaching consequences of The Wall Street crash and the mill strikes.

I also found absolutely fascinating the descriptions of Sea Glass, those colourful shards of glass smoothed by the sea that one sometimes comes across on beaches. Anita Shreve cleverly uses Honora’s collection of these shards as a link throughout.

30 July 2008
Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris
Another engrossing read from Joanne Harris which although similar to ‘Chocolat ‘and ‘Blackberry Wine’ it is a much darker story. Once again set in France this time a small village ‘Les Laveuses’ near Angers on the banks of the Loire, during WWII and the present day.
The protagonist is Framboise Dartigen who has returned to the village after a long absence to live in the farmhouse of her childhood. Her mother Mirabelle Dartigen has since died and part of Framboise’s inheritance was an album of memories and recipes. It is through studying this album that her memories of her childhood start to haunt her. Framboise has invented a new identity for herself, as she knows the villagers would look on her with contempt if they knew whose daughter she was. She uses her mother’s recipes from the album in her restaurant which helps to make it the success it is. The consequent interference of her jealous and scheming nephew and his wife threaten to expose her true identity. However there is already one village friend from her childhood who guessed immediately who she really was and it with his help that she prevents this happening and unravels the mysteries that drove her family to leave the village during the Second World War. Putting the tragedies of the past behind her Framboise is finally able to look forward to a happy future, now she is no longer resisting the truths discovered in her mother’s album.
As with all Joanne Harris’s novels that I have read I highly recommend this one.

27 July 2008
The Lost Boy by Dave Pelzer
In this sequel to ‘A Child Called It’ Dave Pelzer tells us about his time as a foster child from age twelve to age eighteen. He has now been removed from the threatening environment that was his home with his parents and siblings. Although a relief it was a difficult transition for him to transfer from a violent lifestyle into mainstream society.
Foster care not only meant escape from a psychotic mother that would have surely killed him if he had not been rescued but life in a world where he had no idea what to expect. Dave faced many challenges in foster care while wanting nothing more than to be accepted, whilst also trying to answer his own questions about his past. ‘The Lost Boy’ relates the many ups and downs and frustrations of being a foster child which as a survivor he comes though and eventually achieves his dream.
Not such a traumatic read as the previous book though still very moving and an interesting insight into fostering.

26 July 2008
Going Dutch by Katie Fforde Fforde is in my opinion one of the better writers of ‘chick lit’ This is her thirteenth novel and I admit to having read most of them, as her writing has always been enjoyable when I feel the need for some romantic escapism. However I was disappointed with this one as it even lacked a plot just a typical theme, take two very different women Jo and Dora, both sworn off men until they fall for the charms of Marcus and Tom. Neither of the romances felt convincing either, just all rather predictable. I also found more than a few of the comments and use of words irritating such as the over use of ‘perimenopausal’ I think we got the message. As for the description on p114 when Dora was changing for the karaoke did we really need to know about ‘stray armpit hair’ surely quite irrelevant?
The most interesting parts were those about the barge Jo and Dora lived on ‘The Three Sisters’, most especially when it was sailed to Holland.
A pleasant enough read for an afternoon in the sun but not one of Katie Fforde’s best, as once again lacking some of the spark of her earlier novels. I have mentioned this fact before in my review of ‘Practically Perfect’ last year.
Maybe I am just outgrowing Katie Fforde, I hope not as I have been reading and enjoying her books since she was first published in 1995.One last point to be aware of is that the ending comes sooner than expected. Due to the dire habit of the publisher treating us to an extract of the author's next novel. A fairly new practice that personally I find particularly irritating.

23 July 2008
Scoffing the Primroses by Alex Pankhurst
Alex Pankhurst is passionate about plants; her previously published book was about the stories behind many favourite garden plants. So it is no surprise that ‘Scoffing the Primroses’ her debut novel published in 2003 is literally bursting with horticultural detail.
Anyone interested in plants particularly cottage garden and herbal plants will find this an enjoyable read. It was a delight to read about the gardens and plants and I had a lovely vision of English cottage gardens all the time I was reading this.
In the spring of 1997 Rosemary Keel a young American woman arrives to spend some time with her aunt Zinnia Peasmore in the Suffolk village of Haydon Settleworth. In a humorously told story we learn of life in the village as Rosemary settles in and gets to know the residents. Having lived in an English village myself for many years I also found it easy to visualise her village characters, having met many of them before, albeit with different names.
Her aunt Zinnia has the most wonderful garden in an old quarry, which is under threat of becoming a landfill site. The main theme running through this village saga is the fight to save this garden from its planned fate and Zinnia and her family come up with an interesting plan to do so.
Quoting from the back cover, ‘this is a novel for those who love gardening, admire village living, and relish the quirky side of life. This is a delightful, compelling story, written with a deep understanding of what it is to make and love a garden’.

17 July 2008
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

A very sad and sensitively written story, a young woman’s innocence and naivety was to change the course of a couple’s life irretrievably; when all it had needed was a little reassurance from her lover.

Edward and Florence young well educated and both virgins when they married are the protagonists of this emotional novel. It is the early sixties and they were both very much products of the era with all the inhibitions of that time. The swinging sixties had yet to arrive, had it been just a few years later this episode in their lives may have caused life to turn out very out very differently for them.
Younger readers may find it difficult to empathise with the characters as life in the C21st is rather different.

With Chesil Beach Ian McEwan has shown us once again what a talented writer he is. Hardly a novel at 166 pages but not disappointing in that to write more would certainly have spoilt the story.

15 July 2008
Saturday by Ian McEwan
Having just been lent a copy of Ian McEwan’s more recent novel On Chesil Beach I decided that I should read Saturday first, as the copy my husband read was on our bookshelves. I have previously read and enjoyed, The Cement Garden, Enduring Love, Amsterdam and Atonement. The latter is still my favourite, although I highly recommend Saturday as a thought provoking read.
Saturday as the title suggests covers just one day, February 15th 2003 in the life of modern day Londoner Henry Perowne. A successful neurosurgeon living a comfortable middle class existence, happily married to Rosalind, a lawyer and two grown-up children Daisy a poet and Theo a musician. His day starts as he watches the dawn from his bedroom window and events as the day progresses cause him to examine his life and beliefs in detail. In fact detail to the extreme is something this story is full of along with lots of literary and musical references. The detail McEwan goes into on subjects as diverse as brain surgery and a squash match are riveting. The brain surgery details made me feel uncomfortable, as for the squash match I felt I was playing the game myself. He writes in such a realistic manner, the fifties housewives cleanliness and the old peoples homes descriptions were also parts where I actually felt I was there, memories of my own may be?The story builds slowly to its dramatic climax with Henry spending his Saturday preparing for a family gathering. On the day the streets of London were filled with hundreds of thousands of anti-war protestors, which seemed to have a disconnected effect on everything that happened to Henry that day
I enjoyed this so much that I am going to start On Chesil Beach straight away!

13 July 2008
One Summer's Grace by Libby Purves to my husband as a gift in 1990 when it was first published in paperback. It has languished on various bookshelves, ever since then waiting for me to get around to reading it!It is twenty years since the Heiney family Libby, husband Paul, son Nicholas, (now 25) and daughter Rose, (now 23) sailed the 1,700 miles around the coastline of mainland Britain. From May to August of 1988 their home was ‘Grace O’Malley’ while they took a sabbatical from ordinary life. One Summer’s Grace is the memoir of that adventure.As well as relating the ups and downs of family life in a confined space with a sense of humour, she also relates some interesting historical tales and gives detailed geographical descriptions of places visited during the trip.It was not an easy journey as living aboard a small boat is hard work even for a full adult crew, but with two children aboard who made work but were unable to reciprocate by helping out much it was doubly hard. So it is no surprise that there were moments during the voyage that Libby and Paul had severe doubts about what they were attempting to achieve. Achieve it they most certainly did and what an experience. I would though be most interested to know how Nicholas and Rose as adults now look back on the experience.Update 18/07/08: Apologies but I have only learnt today that Nicholas Heiney died in June 2006 after a battle against depression.

10 July 2008
A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer
I knew that this would be a traumatic read and subconsciously I have put off reading it. As it has been sitting on our bookshelves for a little over two years I decided I should not put it off for any longer.
It is very short and I read it in its entirety yesterday afternoon. Certainly not a book one reads for pleasure or relaxation. It is not a story just the horrendous facts of a little boys life from the ages of four to twelve. I squirmed in horror as I read this example of the truth being so much scarier than fiction.
Dave Pelzer’s young life was a living hell with a Mother who physically and mentally tortured him. She was obviously a very disturbed woman but why was it that his brothers and his Father in particular, were unwilling or unable to stand up to her?
As this all happened over thirty years ago, one can only hope that nowadays such horrific cases of child abuse would never have gone for so long. I really cannot understand why it was so very difficult for the school to rescue David from this situation, which they did eventually. It seemed to take them an eternity to gather the facts they needed! Why oh why did this child not have the strength to take the help that was tentatively offered at various times and just refuse to go home. I believe it was because he was so very very scared that if he did so no one would believe him and he would have ended up a murder victim. It seems to me that against all odds Dave Pelzer showed amazing strength of spirit and survived.
At times it seems unreal and is certainly very disturbing, however child abuse is sadly a reality in our society and for that reason I am glad that I decided to read this account.
I will read the sequel ‘The Lost Boy’ soon as it is also waiting on the bookshelves. It covers the period from age twelve to eighteen, when after his prayers were answered and he was rescued he became a foster child.

I gave this 5 stars not because it was a good book in the literary sense but because it is a bravely related memoir.

08 July 2008
Relentless by Simon Kernick would possibly not have chosen to read this, but it was a Richard and Judy Summer Read last year and I do usually like to try their recommendations. Also my husband has read it and thought I might enjoy it! Well he was wrong; although I sometimes enjoy a thriller it is far from my favourite genre this was not even particularly thrilling in the sense that it was a good adventure. Far from it, this was just a novel about violent crime.
One weekend Tom and Kathy Meron’s world is turned upside down when Tom receives a phone call from an old friend Jack Calley. They are drawn into a web of crime and the fast paced and horrendously violent action takes place over just two days and an epilogue three weeks later. The story is narrated either by Tom or by DI Mike Bolt a detective from the National Crime squad.
Although I was just about interested enough to find out what happened to finish the book, I found the violence altogether distasteful. There are some unpleasant characters in this story and one particularly nasty example of humanity known by the name of Lench.
I understand that Simon Kernick’s research for his novels is always very extensive and they are considered to be very authentic. I know the world is a cruel and violent place but this is authenticity I personally can do without, so I doubt I will be reading any more of this authors work which in some circles are obviously considered realistic crime novels.

07 July 2008
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

A delightful romp through the ranks of society in 1870’s London. From the very first page the author invites you to participate as though you were a character within its pages. The story starts by introducing us the lowest strata of Victorian society in Church Lane St Giles where we are introduced to the first character Caroline, who in turn will lead us to be introduced to the main protagonists as we become part of their lives for a year or so. I believe this is why the ending may be a little disappointing to some as nothing is actually resolved completely, for life goes on!

The heroine is Sugar a nineteen year old prostitute that we follow as she yearns for a better life, on the way getting to meet a whole cast of believable and memorable characters. The other main protagonists are mainly members of the Rackham family, a perfume family that were rivals of Pears and Yardley. They are William Rackham, second son and reluctant heir to the family business, his wife Agnes, ignorant of the facts of life and so a very troubled and tormented lady. She is even unable to accept the existence of her own daughter Sophie. Williams’s older brother Henry and his lady friend Emmeline Fox along with Bodley and Ashwell, university friends of William, are the other characters that link William Rackham’s two worlds together.
Religion, Prostitution and Poverty are all covered in this detailed description of life in C19 London, which for so very many people was one of misery.
The descriptions are extremely intimate and if you are going to be easily offended by crude language and very explicit details of a personal nature then this is not a book for you.

It was a lengthy read at over 800 pages but one I would not have missed what an extraordinary world Victorian London must have been.

03 July 2008
Mr Golightly's Holiday by Salley Vickers just cannot get into this!! It is very unusual for me to give up but five chapters is enough to tell me that I just cannot read anymore. If I had read the Amazon reviews properly before starting, maybe I would never have done so? Reading what Amazon has to say, along with my own efforts to try, I have learnt that this is not really a novel but a Fable. Amazon says and I quote that 'One needs a high tolerance of Anglican whimsy to enjoy this' I just do not feel like reading a novel that is full of allergorical and theological undertones at this time and the soap-opera of the villagers lives just did not catch my imagination. Just maybe, another time and another place I would try again.

02 July 2008
First Lady by Michael Dobbs
Although this is the first title I have read by this author I was a fan of The House of Cards television series from his previous novels. I think maybe because of that I was expecting to enjoy this more than I did, but although well written it disappointed me. Politics, Power and Passion, I found it all so predictable and certainly for me there were no surprises along the way.
I do think though that as a man Michael Dobbs has a talent for portraying women. In this novel there was not one character male or female that I liked what a collection of people. Even Ajok Arob the downtrodden Dinka tribeswoman from the Sudan, whom at first I had sympathy for was annoying me by the end of the story. The heroine Ginny Edge starts off the novel seeming to be the contented constituency wife but discovering her husband has a secret changes all that. Overnight she is no longer going to accept her role as a victim of the system. She may never be happy again with the role of the ‘optional extra’ wife on the arm of her politician husband, unless of course he was the Prime Minister.
Certainly readable and I suspect I would be tempted to read a sequel.

29 June 2008
The Chestnut Tree by Charlotte Bingham
Charlotte Bingham is a very prolific writer of both novels and television dramas. I first read one of her books ten years ago and this is only the fifth title of hers since then. I do not think therefore that I would consider her one of my favourite authors, though I have always found they provide readable enjoyable escapism.

The Chestnut Tree follows the lives of the residents of Bexham, a Sussex fishing port during World War II. The main protagonists are four young girls all from the village but from differing social backgrounds. Judy Melton an admirals daughter, Meggie Gore-Stewart socialite, Mathilda Eastcott only child of staid parents and Rusty Todd, tomboy daughter of the owner of the local boatyard.
As the war years progress we see the girls not just participating in the war effort but falling in love.

Life will never be the same again for any of them after the war, as the lives of women of all ages changed during that period for ever.

27 June 2008
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Before reading The Lollipop Shoes in which Vianne Rocher returns, I decided to revisit Lasquenet during Lent and rediscover all those wonderful characters.
Vianne and her daughter Anouk, mysterious strangers arrive in the village and open a chocolate shop which immediately begins to have a strange but generally good effect on the inhabitants. However the bigoted village priest Father Reynaud thinks she is there to turn his flock against their catholic religion. 'Church not Chocolate' is the true message of Easter according to some of the villagers. However there is also an element amongst the residents that just love Chocolate as I do myself! Around this theme we are told the stories of various villagers, amongst my favourites are Guillaume Duplessis who lives for his dog ‘Charly’ and Armande Voizin a spirited local matriarch who does not intend to let failing health spoil her life.
Something I rarely do is read a book more than once unless studying it, as my thoughts are that there are too many books I want to read and too little time to do so! Surprisingly though I enjoyed it just as much on this second reading. Joanne Harris writes very descriptively and you can almost taste the chocolates and imagine yourself in the French countryside she describes. The trouble is having now seen the film I do tend to picture scenes from it rather than forming my own pictures in my mind. This is why I always prefer to read the book first, if it is made into a film and use my own imagination!

23 June 2008
The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
In The Boleyn Inheritance Philippa Gregory once again returns to a period in history that she writes about so knowledgably. The court of Henry VIII, this time covering the period 1539 to 1542 with a postscript ending in 1547.
The story is narrated by the three protagonists Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Jane Rochford concentrating on the lives of these young women trying to survive life at court during a time of political and religious uncertainty.
It is an intense time as these women though powerful live in fear of Henry and his favourite way of solving his problems ‘the gallows’
Written from the three different perspectives of these three very different women I found that I was once again enjoying historical facts interwoven with fiction in the style that Philippa Gregory does so well.
Even if you have not read the previous novels in the series this one still stands well alone. So whether you are new to her novels or a firm fan this intense drama should bring the historical period to life.

21 June 2008
Roasting in Hell's Kitchen by Gordon Ramsey
Having read Hell’s Kitchen I now feel that I understand Gordon Ramsay’s personality a little better. His fanatical pursuit of perfection seems to be as a result of his difficult childhood. However I wonder if his constant use of the f word is entirely necessary as all it really shows is lack of vocabulary. This makes me feel that maybe nowadays he continues to use it for effect in print and on the small screen.
He is obviously very passionate about his restaurants and the meals they produce. He admits that the UK is still a long way behind the rest of Europe in terms of decent places to eat outside the big cities, a depressing but true fact. He hopes that things will improve slowly and that he has a part to play in improving the future eating habits of the British.
An enlightening read if you are interested in learning about how Gordon Ramsey came to be the man he is today, a successful chef and businessman.

21 June 2008
Restless by William Boyd
‘Restless’ was my introduction to the work of William Boyd, drawn to my attention by having been a recommendation of Richard and Judy’s Bookclub last year. An intriguing and exciting story that I became engrossed in from the very first pages. Given the opportunity to read other titles by this author, I will not hesitate.
An intricate tale of Eva Delectorskaya’s espionage experiences during World War II
A plot full of lies and manipulations that twists and turns holding ones attention fully. It is 1976 and Sally Gilmartin has decided that it is time her daughter learnt the truth about her wartime experiences. Especially as she now needs some help to wrap up some loose ends!

The novel follows two narratives – one which Ruth reads in instalments about her mother’s history when she was recruited by the British Secret Service during the Second World War. The other is set in 1976 as Eva completes her final assignment and Ruth discovers that what she had learnt of her mother while growing up was just a series of lies!

The story is full of bluffs, double bluffs, agents, and ghosts and lots of espionage details. One very gruesome passage made me cringe but I am very squeamish especially when it concerns eyes. There is no doubt I would never have made a good spy!

A very enjoyable novel and I thought a convincing ending.

16 June 2008
The Family Way by Tony Parsons
It is unusual to read novels about such emotional issues as families and parenthood that are written by men. Tony Parsons does it amazingly well and with The Family Way he has produced another story of love and fulfilment with great emotion and humour.
Cat , Jessica and Megan three sisters whose mother deserted them when they were eleven, seven and three respectively. The day she left was the day Cat’s childhood ended and she was left with her father and a series of au-pairs and nannies to help her sisters grow up. They are now all grown up with partners, struggling to cope with work, sex, love and the real meaning of family.
The issues are all sensitively dealt with and one feels able to empathise with all the characters. Basically a story about love and parenthood it all seems to come right in the end. Well for most of the characters anyway!

16 June 2008
The Potter's House by Rosie Thomas
I have been reading and enjoying Rosie Thomas’s novels for the last fifteen years. This one is no exception, thinking I had missed this one for some reason I started it the other day. The haunting storyline soon came flooding back to me. The earthquake, the residents of Dunollie mansions, the island of Halemni and the Giorgiadis family.
The arrival of Kitty (Catherine, ‘Cary’ Stafford) on the island in the aftermath of the tsunami upsets the balance of life within the Giorgiadas family. Olivia Giorgiadas comes to feel threatened by Kitty this stranger who seems to want what she has. It disconcerts her as she is same age as Kitty and they are strikingly similar in looks. Kitty is envious of Olivia and things become even more complicated when Olivia’s brother Max arrives on the island. There is an immediate physical attraction between Kitty and Max which adds to the tension already building. Eventually things come to a dramatic climax and Kitty realises she must leave Halemni, but not without having learnt what might have been!
The Potter’s House is an absorbing story about love and fate. Fate makes us the person we are but it can also prevent us from becoming the person we could have been. It will leave you thinking about it for a long time afterwards.

14 June 2008
Widow on the World by Pamela Fudge year on from her husband’s death at an early age Denise is just learning that she can survive alone when it all goes horribly wrong. One day she is living alone and suddenly the next day there are four people living in her house. Her mother, her daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend are all in need of a roof over their heads and Denise is the soft touch that they descend on. In a very predictable story line Denise proceeds to sort out the problems of the lame ducks in her life, not just those living with her either. Consequently she does not really have much time to realise where her own life is heading, though I am sure most readers will see the happy ending that is coming before Denise does.
I must admit that this is not a book I would probably have chosen to read had it not been published by Transita. Last year along with some other Bookingcrossing friends I set myself the challenge of reading their entire catalogue. Transita see themselves as giving heroines and writers over 45 a voice and in this they are certainly successful. Of course it is no surprise really that I have not loved every book in their catalogue but without a doubt I am glad to have read them and have discovered new writers along the way.
A light and predictable love story for those readers that like a happy ending, nothing wrong with that!

14 June 2008
Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

This being the sixth novel I have read by Jodi Picoult I have become very familiar with her chosen format for a novel, in which lawyers and moral dilemmas feature strongly. It may be that her novels are a little predictable but the format works and I enjoy reading them. After all that is what it’s all about, entertainment.
Salem Falls is no exception, this time the themes are rape and witchcraft. The protagonist Jack St Bride has the unfortunate experience of not once but twice being accused of rape after becoming the object of teenage girls’ fantasies. The first time it happened there was no escape as the tension between truth and fiction drove events along. As a man having wrongly served a prison sentence he arrives in Salem Falls and tries to make a new life for himself with the help of Adie Peabody. He is noticed by a group of teenage girls in Salem who are experimenting in Wicca, a witchcraft religion. He has a very strong effect on Gillian Duncan a very troubled teenager who is their ring-leader and it is her he is wrongly accused of raping. This time though he has more support and one hopes that truth will win the day. Read the book to find out though, in fact the ending left me feeling very sorry for Gillian with Amos Duncan as her more than controlling father!

11 June 2008
Veil of Roses by Laura Fitzgerald
Tamila Soroush lives in Iran with her parents, approaching the age of 27, time for her to be considering an arranged marriage as is the tradition. In their youth her parents had experienced for awhile the freedom of America, also their eldest daughter lives there, so as a birthday present they present Tamila with a one way ticket to visit her sister. It is a brave gift as the hope of her parents is that she will meet a man and marry him within the three month time period her visa allows. Success will mean freedom and a new life in America, failure a return to Iran to be controlled for ever.

A potentially strong outline for a cross cultural novel that I hoped like others I have read would leave a strong impression. I usually find I learn a lot from such novels and am left with plenty to think about after finishing the story.
Veil of Roses left no impression whatsoever, very disappointing. I did not feel particularly impassioned by the cultural facts that were presented in the novel. Maybe it comes over in this almost emotionless way because the author is not actually Iranian herself, although married to an Iranian –American, so there is no first hand emotion in the writing.

A compassionate love story that I personally felt lacked the emotional depth that I normally expect when reading a cross cultural novel such as this one.

09 June 2008
The Singing Line by Alice Thomson is the biographical story of Charles Todd, the man who successfully managed to connect Australia with other continents by taking the telegraph across its interior and Alice Todd his wife who gave her name to the famous Alice Springs. Written by Alice Thomson their great great granddaughter it is also partly a travel story as in 1997 she and her husband retrace the steps that the Todd’s had taken over a hundred years previously.
She vividly describes the trials and tribulations of these Victorian explorer’s and those of her and her husband. In crossing some of the most isolated and hazardous terrain in the world, they discover that some parts of the Australian outback have changed little since Victorian times. Even with all modern day advantages to help them it was still not and easy task in modern times.

It was an amazing feat that these pioneers achieved and Alice’s account made me realise just how much this was so!

06 June 2008
Peony in Love by Lisa See

The heroine of this novel is Peony a teenage girl living in C17 China under the cultural restrictions of the era.
Using the plot of the ancient Chinese opera ‘The Peony Pavilion’ as the framework for the story Lisa See has weaved historical fact with fiction to write of the emotional and ghostly bonds between three sister wives. Chen Tong (Peony), Tan Ze and Qian Yi were all real women and although it is known for a fact that Chen Tong’s name was changed because it was the same as her future mother in laws, it is not know what name was chosen. Lisa See has kept to historical fact as far as possible and although it is thought that Peony never actually met Wu Ren it is true that he wanted his wives to be acknowledged and approved the publication of their work.
A tragic romance, Peony is actually only alive for the first part of the novel (95 pages) after which she is a ‘ghost’ living in the afterlife. She died at sixteen, an innocent young girl, from love-sickness, by starving herself to death. As before her arranged wedding day she meets a young man and falls in love She learns far more about life and love after her death than she could have known after such a short life.

It was fascinating to read about the beliefs of the Chinese in the after life, very complicated!

This novel did not have the same impact on me as Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, but is nonetheless worth reading, especially if you are interested in learning more about the role of women in Chinese culture.

25 May 2008
Love and Dr Devon by Alan Titchmarsh sessions and this rather trite little mystery romance by one of the UK’s favourite gardeners was finished. This one did not really appeal to me very much. Although I have read all of Alan Titchmarsh’s novels I have to admit they only catch my attention because of his television fame...sorry Alan.

This predictable tale takes as its protagonists three middle aged men, Tiger Wilson, Dr Christopher Devon and Gary Flynn. The title I felt did not fit very well as the story gives all three men a little love interest and intrigue in their lives, not just Dr Devon.
Somehow between them they stumble on a local mystery loosely connected by a Chinese man and Dr Devon’s concerns about the local GP practice.

A lightweight amusing novel. Though I prefer his work as a gardener and TV personality.

25 May 2008
Blue Slipper Bay by Wendy K Harris

Wendy K Harris is one of my favourite Transita authors and I was not disappointed with this follow up to The Sorrow of Sisters, her first novel. Blue Slipper Bay is just as emotional as her first and once again set in the Isle of Wight, with familiar places and characters. It is not necessary to have read the previous novel to enjoy this one, although I would recommend doing so, because the main protagonists are new characters.
Sophie, Jill and Nick who all have traumas in their pasts that they need to reconcile if they are ever going to be happy. Their stories link seamlessly into the lives of the characters previously met in The Sorrow of Sisters. A broken marriage and bereavement bring Sophie to the island to visit her best friend Jill and hopefully restore some balance in her life. Jill meanwhile has some soul searching of her own to do with regards to the effect of her childhood on her behaviour within her marriage, which consequently has put a strain on her relationship with her husband Ash. Nick has sought the island as a retreat from deep grief that is taking him years to recover from.

The theme of love and forgiveness intertwines these characters together as friendships and relationships develop and teeter on the brink of failure. Everything works out as one would hope by the end though because this is after all, though written in a good literary style, still a romantic novel.

I look forward to reading her third novel Roken Edge which will apparently once again be set in the Isle of Wight.

13 May 2008
Pasquale's Nose by Michael Rips book is a quick read, only 200 pages but full of amusing anecdotes and Italian eccentrics, an interesting mix of historical fact and myth, as well as the author's reflections on life in a small hilltop town called Sutri. Sutri is in the Tuscia, where I live, so the book was of particular interest. This region extends from Rome up to the borders of Tuscany in the north, Umbria to the east and the coast to the west. The largest city in the region is Viterbo and Sutri an attractive hill town in the countryside, is an equal distance between there and Rome. The inhabitants of the Tuscia are in general unassuming people and tend to be suspicious of ‘stranieri’ foreigners, which is probably one of the reasons that the region is still relatively undiscovered, a treasure trove of Etruscan antiquities and nature at its most beautiful.The book is written as a series of literary sketches some of which I found amusing, others rather weird and the ones where the author tried to compare to familiar situations in the USA where he came from frankly rather boring.One description too many for me was the recipe for horsemeat and learning that the best horse meat in Italy comes from around Sutri. Information I could have done without, even when the author goes on to say that the Sutrini’s also worship horses holding a festa in their honour!I am glad that I read it and the next time that I visit Sutri I will certainly be looking around me to see if I can recognise any of the great cast of characters, including Gino, Dina, Vittore, Fiorina, Luciano, Romolo, and of course Pasquale who gives the book its title. I do think though that life even in Sutri may have moved on a little since 2001! I would not recommend it unless like me you happen to be particularly interested in Italy.

11 May 2008
Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris
Although I have had the majority of Joanne Harris’s previous novels on my bookshelves for a number of years, so far I have only read Chocolat, Coastliners and Gentleman and Players. Now having just finished Blackberry Wine I intend to rectify this and catch up by reading the rest as soon as possible. So far she has proved to be for me a riveting storyteller, somehow making the locations and characters leap from the page. Her descriptions of food and wine so good that you feel you can smell and taste them. I finished this with a glass of wine sitting in the garden this evening and felt transported to Lansquenet, which was also the location for Chocolat. I believe also that some characters reappear in The Lollipop Shoes, receiving a copy of this recently as a gift is the inspiration to read the rest of her novels.

In Blackberry Wine the narrator is a bottle of wine ‘Fleurie 1962’ unfolding the tale of Jay Mackintosh as a boy in 1975 and an adult in 1999, when he impulsively buys an old house in Lanssquenet, France.
In two interlinking narratives we learn how the time he spent as a teenager in Kirby Monckton with his friend an old man Joe, has a subconscious effect on his 1999 choices.

09 May 2008
The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
Despite the very slow pace of this novel I found it hugely atmospheric. Maybe especially so because I know some of the places mentioned personally, A particular favourite being Bomarzo, The Sacred Wood.Will definitely appeal to lovers of Italy, Gardens their histories and thrillers. It was only my interest in these first two that kept me turning the pages at first because I found I was almost halfway through before the mystery pulled me in properly. I was pulled in very slowly by the mystery of the two interrelated murders, committed four hundred years apart. It is believed that there is some sort of curse that will be lifted if the riddle of these deaths can be solved.The protagonist Adam Strickland who is studying the Renaissance Garden at Villa Docci in Tuscany for his university thesis, by personal invitation is unwittingly drawn in by the family to help solve the mystery. Adam successfully uncovers the mysteries of the garden, completely unaware of the danger he is putting himself in, by nosing around into the dark past of the Docci family.After the slow start I was surprised at how gripping this mystery eventually became.I am willing to send this on to any interested Bookcrosser!