Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Espresso Break by Barbara Zaragoza

Paperback:  299 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction, Travel Guide,
Publisher: Merchant's Press 2012
Source: From the author in return for an unbiased review.
First Sentences: Welcome to one of the oldest cities in the Western world - Naples, Italy. This insider's guide is a compilation of three years researching and travelling throughout the Campania region and a little beyond.
My opinion: Travel guide with a difference.

There is so much more within the pages of this travel guide to Naples than you would expect as it has a personal feel to it. I suspect that this is because much of the information contained within the pages, of unusual tours and hidden nooks of Naples appeared originally on the authors blog.  The author is an American Naval wife and freelance travel writer who during a three year posting to Naples explored the city and its environs writing about it on The Espresso Break which led to this book.

This guidebook is perfect for the armchair traveller, or to tuck in your bag on your trip to Naples whether you are a first time visitor or have been there many times before. I think you might find some hidden nooks that you did not know existed! I also agree with the author's own suggestion that this book makes an excellent introduction to the newly arrived ex-pat living in Naples as many of the articles will help one understand the cultural differences. Besides ideas for the tourist Barbara Zaragoza covers topics as diverse as food, shopping and the problems of rubbish and racism. It would also not have been complete without the section on Neapolitan espresso and its history, which gives the book its title. As well as the obvious sights, Vesuvius, Pompei and Herculaneum there are many other places covered. Which in my opinion means you cannot fail to find something of interest, with her tour ideas based on different themes, such as Ancient Rome, Grottoes or Odious Women. This guide will certainly be travelling with us on any future trips to Naples.

In conclusion an unusual travel guide for those of us that like to explore off the beaten track as well as the more obvious places. I personally feel that you learn a lot more about a place and its culture if you turn off the well beaten pathways and explore the nooks and crannies.

Author Profile

Barbara Zaragoza was raised in a small city outside of San Francisco. At eighteen she went to Washington D.C. where she studied International Relations at The American University while interning at Capitol Hill.  During that time, she also did a study abroad in Poland right when Communism was collapsing (1989-1990), which led her to go to Prague and work for the Institute of International Relations while Czechoslovakia was splitting. She then went on to do a graduate degree in Russian and East European Studies at Stanford University., followed by a Master’s degree at Harvard University with a focus on Polish contemporary history. During those same years, she fell in love and married a submariner with whom she has three daughters.  Her husband left submarines for a Navy medical career that has included two deployments (Afghanistan and GITMO). She has travelled to five continents and has studied somewhere around seven languages. In 2007 she moved to Naples, Italy for three years  in 2007. The family now live in San Diego, California, which they consider to be home.  
The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Author's Official Website     Barbara Zaragoza - Amazon Profile     Naples Guide

I will also be sharing this review on  News From Italy

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah

Paperback:  456 pages
Genre:  Psychological thriller
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton 2010
Source: Oxfam Charity Bookshop in the UK
Review Quote: 'Tension thy name is Sophie Hannah' The Independent.
First Sentence: Part I : I am looking at numbers when Laurie phones, numbers that mean nothing to me.
My opinion: The numbers calling card was clever!

I have followed Sophie Hannah's writing for about the last four years and this is the sixth of her novels that I have read, so there is no doubt that I find her work very readable. Psychological thrillers are not my favourite genre but as her books are ones that my husband will read as well, we always pick them up if we come across them on our travels.

This is the author's fifth novel to feature Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer as part of the police team investigating the case. It does not matter though if you have not read her previous novels as apart from the reappearance of some of the characters in the police force the main theme of the story is unconnected. The only thing you will have missed out on is the changing relationship between Simon and Charlie, by the way the Charlie is female for those of you that might be wondering.

I finished reading ' a room swept white' not having solved the puzzle for myself, a good sign that the book kept me guessing all the way to the end. The numbers calling card was very clever and I was impressed without what it turned out to mean!

As in her previous novels the story unfolds in the two parallel stories, in the first person by the female protagonist Fliss Benson, a young TV producer who has been given the job of directing a documentary about women accused of killing their babies. The other story concerns the police investigation keeping the reader informed of all that is happening, the murder being investigated is of Helen Yardley one of the women due to appear in the proposed documentary. While Fliss is working on the case with the remaining women there is another murder committed and she begins to feel that maybe she is in danger herself. To find out if Fliss was right to be worried you will have to read the book for yourself.

In her usual indubitable style of writing Sophie Hannah has written yet another sometimes muddling and complicated plot, you need to concentrate, well I did anyway. The social dilemmas of 'cot death' are extremely well coped with and gave me a lot to think about. If you enjoy a novel that makes you think and can cope with the fact that the subject matter can be distressing, then I can recommend this one to you.

Author Profile

The biographical information used today is courtesy of her Official Website

Sophie Hannah is the author of six internationally bestselling psychological thrillers – Little FaceHurting DistanceThe Point of RescueThe Other Half LivesA Room Swept White and Lasting Damage. Her novels are published in 20 countries, with more foreign rights deals under negotiation.The Other Half Lives was short-listed for the 2010 Independent Booksellers’ Book of the Year Award and is currently short listed, under its US title The Dead Lie Down, for a Barry Award.  Little Face and Hurting Distance were both longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, and Little Face was longlisted for the IMPAC Award. The Point of Rescue, Sophie’s first thriller to be adapted for television, will be broadcast on ITV1 in May under the series title Case Sensitive.
In 2004, Sophie won first prize in the Daphne Du Maurier Festival Short Story Competition for her suspense story The Octopus Nest, which is now published in her first collection of short stories The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets.
Sophie has also published five collections of poetry. Her fifth, Pessimism for Beginners, was shortlisted for the 2007 TS Eliot Award. Her poetry is studied at GCSE, A-level and degree level across the UK. From 1997 to 1999 she was Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge, and between 1999 and 2001 she was a fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford. She is thirty-nine and lives with her husband and children in Cambridge, where she is a Fellow Commoner at Lucy Cavendish College.

I have featured Sophie Hannah on this blog more than once and reviewed her earlier novels, although the earlier ones just on Bookcrossing as it was before I started LindyLouMac's Book Reviews .  Please click on the title links below to read my earlier reviews. 

Cordial and Corrosive  Bookcrossing review
Little Face  Bookcrossing review.
Hurting Distance  Reviewed on this blog in 2010.
Point of Rescue  Reviewed on this blog in 2010.   Now published as The Wrong Mother.
The Other Half Lives  Reviewed on this blog in 2011.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Sophie Hannah Official Website,  Amazon Profile,    Goodreads - Author Profile.

I have chosen to read this title as the letter R for The A - Z Book Challenge which I have decided to attempt to achieve in alphabetical order. I have a good selection of titles to choose from our bookshelves, it will be interesting to see how far I can get before I get stuck. You can follow my progress here.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Construct A Couple by Talli Roland

Ebook:  Kindle Edition
Genre: Humorous Romantic Fiction
Notting Hill Press (8 Jun 2012) 
Source: The author in exchange for an unbiased review
First Sentence: If there was a Good Girlfriend award, I'd definitely be a contender.
Review Quote:  
Another quirky, funny, delightful story from Talli Roland, as full of ups and downs as you would expect from this talented writer. - India Drummond
My Opinion: 
I have come to rely on her novels to provide me with a laugh.

This is the fourth novel by Talli Roland that I have read and reviewed.  I am probably somewhat older than her targeted market, but if you consider yourself young at heart, then like me you may well have read her earlier novels.  I find she writes well and that I enjoy her novels, despite the fact that I doubt I would ever have picked them up originally. However invited to review her past work I was pleased to do so as sometimes it is good to step outside our comfort zone. You will see from my previous reviews of her earlier books, that I have come to rely on her novels to provide me with a laugh and my high ratings of her novels are worth it for this factor alone. 

I ended my review of  Build a Man by commenting that it had been a light and entertaining read with characters I was looking forward to hearing more about which apparently would start with the future looking much brighter for Serenity Holland. 
It did, it is a year later when the sequel starts and Serenity is just about to start a new job with a magazine, another step towards her dream of becoming a successful journalist. Her boyfriend Jeremy still recovering from a stroke is working far too hard in his own charitable business. Serenity thinks that moving from America to London has all worked out perfectly for her, but is their relationship strong enough to survive the fact that they are hiding secrets from each other. Never a good idea, lack of communication with your partner can lead to disastrous consequences, as you will discover if you read this. 

Unfortunately I guessed what has happening in two out of three situations, maybe I am just getting too cynical in my old age, but they were rather obvious. Despite that minor gripe it was still a few hours entertainment from a talented young lady who has a delightful writing style and a knack of creating some great characters. Wait till you meet Gregor!  If this appeals to you do make sure to read Build a Man first so that you get to know the protagonists, as it will be easier to follow.

Links to my earlier reviews.

The Hating Game  cleverly written witty debut 

Watching Willow Watts Sparkly lively modern novel that will appeal to many.

Build a Man  Talli has a talent for humour.

              Author Profile

Talli Roland, has three loves in her life, romantic comedy, coffee and wine. Born and raised in Canada she now lives in London, on a street with two Starbucks and, at last count, three other cafes that constantly temp her outside her cosy flat. She has a secret crush on Lord Sugar and if she was forced to wax a man's hairy chest it would have to be Simon Cowell, clearly she watches a lot of reality television. Talli trained as a journalist but soon found she preferred making up her own stories with happy endings.

Biographical, other information and photo are with thanks to the following links where you can find out more about Talli Roland.   

Amazon Author ProfileGoodreads - Author Profile,  Talli Roland - Blog,  Talli Roland - Official Website

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Please Don't Stop The Music by Jane Lovering

Paperback: 284 pages
Genre: Romantic Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: ChocLit, January 2011
The author in return for an honest and unbiased review.
First Sentence: 'You know you are in for a bad day when the Devil eats your last HobNob.'
Review Quote: The panel of judges described Jane's voice as 'fresh and new with an unexpected hero', and included WH Smith's Matt Bates, Foyles' Jonathan Ruppin, Jane Mays from The Daily Mail and The Bookseller's Sarah Broadhurst. Please Don't Stop the Music was singled out by the judges for its 'dark undertones' and for engaging with 'issues a lot of people recognise'.
--The Romantic Novelists' Association 
Award: 2012 Romantic Novel of the Year Award
My Opinion: Prior to reading this I had wondered about the novel receiving the above award, but now I understand why.

This is the third title by Jane Lovering that I have read and reviewed here and that is because Jane found me, rather than me discovering her writing for myself. I am so pleased she did as otherwise I may never have read one of her books. The first one was Reversing Over Liberace which I reviewed last October. The second one was Slightly Foxed I enjoyed the latter as much if not slightly more, as it was realistic, the first one I had found somewhat farcical. 

At last I have got round to reading Please Don't Stop the Music, which I read in just two afternoon sessions in the garden, because it is a real page turner which I enjoyed  more than the previous two. Prior to reading this and with my previous experience of her writing I must admit I had wondered about it winning the 2012 Romantic Novel of the Year Award, now I understand why. This novel is so much more than just another romance, there is an underlying current of mystery which found me racing through it to discover what happened.

The novel is full of secrets that will keep you guessing, some you may guess correctly others not, but the author certainly managed to hold my attention by keeping these secrets back for so long. The main characters both have secrets in their past but this did not make it seem any less realistic. At first I thought it was going to as both protagonists seemed so traumatised. Jemima who more than once in the novel was on the verge of running away when she felt her dark secret was in danger of being discovered. Then the man she meets through her jewellery business, Ben is also hiding something which is why he lives such a solitary life. Of course it is no surprise that Jemima and Ben become curious about each other, so how long will it be before their secrets are revealed, whether intentionally or otherwise.None of the secondary characters have straightforward lives either, but somehow this made the story more mysterious and it works. 

If you enjoy contemporary fiction with humour and a little more than straight romance give this a try, definitely a good read within the genre.

Author Profile

Text From Jane Lovering Author Profile at Amazon
Jane was, presumably, born, although everyone concerned denies all knowledge. However there is evidence that her early years were spent in Devon (she can still talk like a pirate under the right conditions) and of her subsequent removal to Yorkshire under a sack and sedation.
She now lives in North Yorkshire, where she writes romantic comedies and labours under the tragic misapprehension that Johnny Depp is coming for her any day now. She is prevented from running away to join either Johnny or a circus by her five children, four cats and two dogs, and her husband.
Jane's likes include marshmallows, the smell of cucumbers, words beginning with B, the smell of the understairs cupboard, and Doctor Who. She writes with her laptop balanced on her knees whilst lying on her bed, and her children have been brought up to believe that real food has a high carbon content. And a kind of amorphous shape.
Not unlike Jane herself, come to think of it.

You can find out more about Jane ( should you wish to, of course) from her blog and website at
The following link will take you to her Blogger Profile also amusing reading.

Information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Queen Camilla by Sue Townsend

Paperback443 pages
GenreHumorous fiction
PublisherPenguin Books 2007
SourceNo idea, but picked from bookshelves for Q in the Title Challenge
First Sentence: Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, stood smoking a cheap cigarette on the back doorstep of Number Sixteen Hell Close.
Review Quote:   Wickedly satirical, mad, ferociously farcical, subversive. Great stuff - Daily Mail
My Opinion: Satirical fun

For me the name Sue Townsend will always be synonymous with the Adrian Mole stories, they are what have most helped make her Britain's favourite comic author today. Queen Camilla is just as funny as its predecessor The Queen and I, if you are looking for a satirical and fun read this certainly is one. 
It was back in the early nineties that The Queen and I was published and it took thirteen years for Sue Townsend to write and publish this sequel. 

All those years ago when a Republican party won the General Election, their first act in power was to strip the royal family of their assets and titles, also banishing them to live on a housing state. Now in the sequel the UK is still a republican state and the Royal Family are living in an exclusion zone, wearing electronic tags that monitor their every move. It is indeed a weird world with Prince William working as a scaffolder, a royal love child and the government passing obscure laws. Two of which are the banishing of the use of step ladders and control of dog ownership. There is unrest in the republic and a slim chance that the royals may be reinstated, but the Queen has threatened to abdicate and Charles will not consider becoming King unless Camilla is at his side as Queen. 
The one part I did not enjoy was the way the dogs spoke to each other, although of course the humans did not understand them. This aspect reminded me of The Last Family in England.

The satirical characterisations are much more important than the plot which is just as well as there isn't really one apart from the politicians plans to sort out the mess that the country has become.
It goes without saying then that if you are a fan of Adrian Mole you will enjoy Queen Camilla and its predecessor The Queen and I  both of which were republished earlier this year to tie in with the Queens Jubilee.

Author Profile

Susan Lillian Townsend was born April 2nd 1946 in Leicester, where she spent her childhood free time playing in local fields and woods. She only learned to read at the age of eight when, off school with mumps, she was given by her mother a pile of Just William books and taught to read in just three weeks. From that moment she became obsessed with reading. Later, she started to write for the school magazine.

Sue left school at fifteen with no qualifications and found employment in a string of unfulfilling jobs, from petrol-pump attendant to shop assistant. She kept writing, but did so in secret. At eighteen she married and a year later her first child was born. With two more children in her family and a subsequent divorce, she at last found a job she enjoyed – at the youth club on the estate she lives in.

In 1978 Sue met Colin Broadway and after she admitted to him that she had been writing secretly for years he encouraged her to join a writer’s group at Leicester’s Phoenix Arts Centre. After the third meeting, where Sue had shown nothing nor said anything, she was told to share some work with the group next week. Two weeks later she presented Womberang , a play set in a gynaecological waiting room. The play was put on and in 1979 won a Thames Television Playwright Award, including a bursary as Writer in Residence.
Having, almost by accident, embarked on a professional writing career, Sue went on to write numerous successful plays, including Bazaar and Rummage (1982) and The Great Celestial Cow (1984), both of which were performed at London’s Royal Court Theatre.
But it was the Adrian Mole diaries, which Sue had started in 1975, writing the first two and a half months in one sitting, that brought her lasting fame. These first appeared as a half-hour piece on Radio Four in 1982 as The Diary of Nigel Mole. Later that year, the publishers Methuen brought out The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 ¾ (1982) and later its sequel, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole(1984). Together these books made Sue the bestselling author of the 1980s. There have been six further books in the Adrian Mole series , which have sold over eight million copies and have been adapted for radio, television and theatre.
In 1991 she was awarded an Honorary MA by the University of Leicester and subsequently has placed her papers in their Special Collections archives. Sue has continued to write other books, many of which have also gone on to be bestsellers, including The Queen and I (1992) and Number 10 (2002). Her latest novel is The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year, published in 2012 by Michael Joseph.
She has suffered from diabetes for many years, as a result of which she was registered blind in 2001, and has woven this theme into her work.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.
Amazon Author Page - Sue Townsend    Goodreads Author Profile   Authors Official Website

I have chosen to read this title as the letter Q for The A - Z Book Challenge which I have decided to attempt to achieve in alphabetical order. I have a good selection of titles to choose from our bookshelves, it will be interesting to see how far I can get before I get stuck. You can follow my progress here.