Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book Reviews December 2007- February 2008

Toppling Miss April by Adrienne Dines

This was so different from Adrienne Dines other titles that I have read, the Jigsaw Maker and Soft Voices Whispering, both of which I enjoyed more than this one.
In fact if I had read this first I would have been disappointed in this author, new to me. Reading it third I was happily able to accept it for what it was. Fun, a complete farce in fact!
Crossed wires predominate throughout, with the larger than life characters misconstruing just about everything. It is also wickedly funny as long as you are not prudish. I am not and found myself sniggering many times even though I am not a great fan of farce.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.
A well written story covering a somewhat disturbing subject in a sensitive manner. If you want to learn more about how Downs Syndromes sufferers are not really that different from the rest of us, read this. They are innocent and loving victims and unlike the rest of us see the world generally through rose coloured glasses.

A poignant story that drew me in very quickly. Dr David Henry’s wife Norah goes into labour on the night of a severe snowstorm. The snowstorm results in circumstances that result in David having to deliver the twins himself. The firstborn is a healthy son, Paul but the unexpected second child is a girl, Phoebe, with obvious signs of Downs Syndrome.
Taking place in 1964 when attitudes towards those with Downs Syndrome were very different, the reaction of David Henry as a doctor would have been considered normal. However the decision he makes that night betrays his wife in the most shocking way possible. One impulsive disastrous decision haunts his life and others around him for the next twenty-five years.
Well worth reading, a brilliant start to 2008 as my first book read this year. One I will still be thinking about many months after reading.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Although I have enjoyed the Harry Potter books, I am actually glad that the series is now complete. It feels like that I have been reading about his adventures for ever. In fact it is ten years since the first one was published! One school year per book has made this series rather a long plod. I wonder how many youngsters who first read Harry Potter in their early teens have actually enjoyed his adventures in the same way as they read this last volume as a twenty something adult.

A sigh of relief as all the plots are resolved, no mean feat over a series of seven books. The author seems to have resolved everything satisfactorily, though with rather an excessive number of deaths in my opinion. Also not sure I really needed an insight into Harry’s future, was this to make sure there are no sequels by her or any other authors in years to come.

Overall I am pleased that I have read the books even though they were originally aimed at children and young adults. They have certainly been a topic of conversation over the years with my daughters, nephews and nieces.

The Gardener by Prue Leith

Charlotte Warren, known as Lotte, divorced mother of three, architect, garden historian and horticulturist is the protagonist of The Gardener.

The novel follows Lott’s growing passion and obsession with Maddon Park after she takes the post of Head Gardener there. Working for the millionaire Brody Keegan and his spoilt young model wife Amber, she finds herself on an emotional rollercoaster. Brody is ignorant but passionate about the gardens; Amber however is so uninterested that she thinks ‘Who needs a vegetable garden with Waitrose six miles away.’

The history of Maddon Park and gardens makes this novel more than just another love story and I found the historical gardens aspect fascinating. I love gardens and gardening and always enjoy visiting places similar to Maddon Park.
I did feel at one point though that maybe Prue Leith was struggling to keep to the plot and tie everything together. For example about two thirds of the way through there is an episode concerning Annie, Lotte’s eldest, a motorbike and a helicopter! I have been unable to understand the relevance of this episode and wonder if it was just padding, or did I miss the point?

I would certainly recommend this to any gardening enthusiast as that aspect is well written and interesting, though the love story intertwined is rather predictable. A good mixture of gardening and romance.5.
The Whaleboat House by Mark Mills

A murder mystery set in Long Island in the late 1940’s with plenty of excellent historical and background information about the area. This I think was the reason for me that the mystery was a little slow to get going and at one time I nearly gave up. Get beyond this slow start and it is well worth reading as everything that came before begins to make sense!
Lillian Wallace youngest daughter of a wealthy New York family who have a summer home in East Hampton is found dead in mysterious circumstances.
Her death is declared an accident but two local men have their own good reasons to believe otherwise. Conrad Labarde, local fisherman who discovered the body and Tom Hollis, deputy police chief, individually unravel the mysteries behind Lillian’s death. Complex twists and turns lead to the conclusion, thanks to the collaboration of these two men.

I believe this is Mark Mills’s first novel though he is already an established script writer. Murder mysteries are not my favourite genre but I will certainly add this author to the list of thriller writers that I do enjoy. In fact The Savage Garden is already on my bookshelf, waiting to be read.

Watershed by Maggie Makepeace

Pamela Wood and Lavinia Henderson have lived together for ten years, since Pamela decided that Vinny should be one of her ‘causes’ and invited her to become her companion.
They introduce themselves to Jonathan Crankshaw a young man recently moved into the area. He is renting a remote and rather spartan property, so that he can concentrate on writing a book about water about which he is obsessed. Unfortunately for Jonathan he becomes Pamela’s latest cause! He is a young man who through no fault of his own has no empathy or imagination and his obsession with water is due to the fact that he needs to understand the workings of the physical world around him. Pamela is unable to cope with the fact that Jonathan because of his Asperger’s syndrome is unable to empathise but she continues to try and control his life. Vinny as Pamela’s long suffering companion is much more sympathetic and as the two of them are drawn together Jonathan actually helps her make some difficult decisions about her own life.
Storms fire and floods cause some personal watersheds to be reached.
The author brings the story alive with her descriptions and details of the wildlife, landscape and flood defences of the Somerset levels.
For me the most interesting character and I felt the protagonist of the story was Jonathan as I think the author has produced a well written and sensitive explanation of life for someone with Asperger’s syndrome. I do not feel this is a spoiler to the novel as knowledge of Jonathan’s condition will I feel attract more readers, especially recommended to those who are interested in learning more about this form of high functioning autism.

Thinking of You by Jill Mansell

Another pleasant romp from Jill Mansell, who I think is one of the original and better modern day writers of ‘chick- lit’. I have been reading her novels since 1998 and she always writes in an amusing and up to date way. Hardly ‘brain fodder’ but nonetheless a good choice for those times when you feel like reading something light and frothy.
The main character in this one is ‘empty nester’ Ginny Holland trying to build a new life for herself now daughter Jem has gone off to university.
As always in her books there is a good mix of characters whose personalities emerge throughout the story with good development of the characters and their interesting relationships!

Miss Webster and Chief by Patricia Duncker

Elizabeth Webster the protagonist of this novel is a retired, single and extremely dogmatic lady. She is afflicted by an unknown illness which is a life changing experience for her. Many months later after recovering and travelling to North Africa for a holiday an unknown young man unexpectedly becomes part of life. Elizabeth and the young man Cherif are well portrayed characters and the story of this unlikely friendship is both sad and funny. However I felt this compassionate tale was somewhat stilted in parts with potential for much more development, had the author chosen to do so.

In the Company of the Courtesan. by Sarah Dunant

A compelling historical novel weaved around the sins of pleasure and the pleasure of sins! Set in 16C Italy the main characters are Fiammetta Bianchini, a Courtesan and her dwarf manservant Bucino Teodoldi. The story narrated by Bucino starts with them having to flee from their home in Rome after the city comes under siege. Fiammetta was originally from Venice, so it here that they decide to take refuge and rebuild their business. Together they make a good team, Fiammetta knows of no other life than the entertainment of gentleman, whilst Bucino takes care of the business side of things. To recover from the ravages suffered in Rome to Fiammetta’s health and beauty it is necessary for them to call on the services of La Draga. La Draga, Elena Crusichi was a healer, though in those times such a person was often considered a witch.
It was fascinating to read about 16C Italy, with some wonderful descriptions especially of Venice and the various personalities that Fiammetta and Bucino come into contact with. La Draga becomes predictably a very important contact, gaining sympathy from Fiammetta she wheedles her way into their life.
The author has successfully blended fact and fiction with her passion for this particular period of history to tell a story that has some surprise twists along the way. I did guess the outcome, ending but personally felt it was a successful way of bringing the novel to a close.

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