Thursday, September 27, 2012

Are We Nearly There Yet? by Ben Hatch

Ebook: Also published as paperback of 320 pages
Genre: Travel/Family Memoir
Publisher: Summersdale 2011
Source: Amazon purchase for my Kindle
First Sentence: The splurge of bags on the pavement is so huge and unruly it reminds me of news footage of a French baggage handlers' strike.
Review Quote: "Hatch humorously recounts his 8000 mile odyssey round Britain with his wife and two small children." -- The Times
My opinion: Worth reading but not for reason you might expect.

Are We Nearly There Yet actually turned out to be far from the funny travel memoir it is portrayed as! In fact at times I found the travel aspect a little tedious. Ben, his wife and children spent five months travelling around the UK conducting research for a family friendly guide book they had been commissioned to write. Yes it is a very funny story about the families adventures on this journey, although I would not have been happy if my children had been as badly behaved as these two. Maybe this was exaggerated for laughs but I am not altogether sure! Anyway after awhile I just found it all becoming rather repetitive with yet another embarrassing situation occurring at yet another attraction. Which yes all parents will identify with and yes it is written in an amusing manner that will make you laugh.

However the interwoven narrative was for me much more interesting, although at times an emotional read, it was much more satisfying. The author is forced to reassess  his relationship with his father during this period of travel as it is discovered that Hatch senior is terminally ill with a very short time left to him.
Without a doubt Ben Hatch has the ability to pull one in with his writing and this memoir is worth reading for the way he has written about this darker side to the story, for me it made up for the boring bits.

I did not realise that I had actually read something by Ben Hatch previously, The Lawnmower Celebrity back in 2001 until I checked my records.  It appears to be be many years since he last published a novel but I hope he does so again.

Author Profile
Photo from Twitter.

Ben Hatch was born in London and grew up there and in Manchester and Buckinghamshire, where he lived in a Windmill. 
His first comic novel, The Lawnmower Celebrity, based loosely on his time as a chicken sandwich station monitor at Darlington McDonalds, was named one of the Radio 4's eight books of the year in 2000. The International Gooseberry about a hapless backpacker with a huge ungovernable toenail was published in 2001 and described as "hysterical and surprisingly sad" by the Daily Express. Ben Hatch was on the long-list of Granta's 2003 list of the most promising 20 young authors in the UK. In association with his wife Dinah, Ben Hatch has also written three guidebooks for Frommer's. Frommer's: Scotland With Your Family, Frommer's: England With Your family, and Frommer's: Britain For Free. The guidebooks are a mixture of helpful and humorous tips on holidaying with children.

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

Twitter - Ben Hatch      Amazon Biography

Wink Murder by Ali Knight

Paperback: 312 pages
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Psychological Fiction.
Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton (10 Nov 2011) 
Source: Give-away on Random Things Through My Letterbox
First Sentence: ' I snap my eyes open in the dark, sensing something is not right.
Review Quote:  'Knight's promising début . . . crackles from first page to last . . . She could be very good indeed.' Daily Mail 
My Opinion: An entertaining read

I did not love this but neither did I hate it. I am going to come down right in the middle with my opinion and say it was an entertaining read if you are looking for a page turner that will keep you guessing. It is a début novel and  although it is generally well written do not expect it to blow your mind away in the style of Sophie Hannah. Remember though this is a first novel and I think Ali Knight may well be an author we are going to hear more of, I will certainly read more of her novels given the opportunity. She needs to check her geography though or get herself a better editor for her next book as nowhere can I find a record of the Isle of Wight being referred to as The Isle of White as it is on page 161 of this novel!

Wink Murder as a title I thought was a clever twist to the story, because if I have assumed correctly it is taken from the game Wink Murder - Wikipedia where in a group of players, one is assigned the role of murderer, with the ability to murder other participants by winking at them, without others noticing. If a player is winked at they must feign death.  You do not have a clue what I am talking about, well you will have to read the book for this to make sense.

The protagonist and narrator of the story is Kate Foreman, married to Paul a successful young executive in television production with a life style that would be the envy of many young marrieds. Kate thinks they have the perfect life until one night it all starts to crumble when she wakes up to find her husband has returned home in the middle of the night drunk, very distressed and covered in blood because he has killed something. Oddly calm she waits till morning to question her now sober husband and discover what actually happened. How well does she know him though, should she have believed his story, her doubts multiply when a young woman who works for him is found murdered. Kate of course is determined to get to the truth but her love and trust of Paul are really put to the test, at first everything appears quite credible. As the plot develops though it became less convincing as Kate's behaviour at times does not feel realistic and the ending left me a little disappointed.

In conclusion if you enjoy reading psychological thrillers than Ali Knight is a new author of the genre certainly worth trying.

Author Profile

Ali Knight has worked as a journalist and sub-editor at The BBC, The Guardian, The Observer and The European. She also helped to launch some websites for the Daily Mail and Evening Standard. A few years ago she gave up journalism to become a full time author.  She grew up in Bedford, the daughter of an American father and a British mother. Ali Knight now lives in London with her husband and three children. Wink Murder is her first novel and her second The First Cut  was recently released

Photo and Biographical Information is with thanks to the following sites.

Amazon Author Profile     Ali Knight - Official Website - Author  

  Interview with Ali Knight on Random Things Through My Letterbox

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Hardback: 278 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher:  UK Edition Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2012
Source: A Harper Collins Marketing Executive in return for an unbiased review.
First Sentence: From The Prologue written by Julian Carax: 'I have always known that one day I would return to these streets to tell the story of the man who lost his soul and his name among the shadows of a Barcelona trapped in a time of ashes and silence.

Review Quote: 
The Prisoner of Heaven is the third part of the story and, like the first, is narrated by Daniel Sempere. But it too contains stories within stories, and the real narrative here belongs to the irrpressible Fermin Romero de Torress...Zafon's characters and dialogue are as lively and full-blooded as ever. (Stephanie Merritt THE OBSERVER )
Favourite Quote:  “Deep down we've never been who we think we once were, and we only remember what never happened.”  
My Opinion: 
 A page turner that I finished far too quickly, leaving me eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

Picking this up to read I wondered if I would be able to remember all that had gone before in the first two novels in this series. No problem, I at once enjoyed being back in the familiar territory of the Sempre bookshop and recollections of The Shadow of the Wind and The Angels Game were easily recalled. The explanation at the front of The Prisoner of Heaven reminds us that it is part of a cycle of novels set in the literary universe of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books of which the previous novels were the first two instalments. It also goes on to say that although each novel is an independent story they are all interconnected by common characters and storylines. The claim is made quite correctly that for this reason the novels can be read in any order, enabling the reader to weave their own path to the heart of the narrative. I do not refute this but personally feel more comfortable with the fact that I have read them in order of publication. 

The writing is just like in the previous volumes so atmospheric that you get a strong feeling of how Barcelona must have felt in the early nineteen forties and the late nineteen fifties, the two periods we are swapped between in The Prisoner of Heaven. We meet many of the same characters but in this novel the protagonist is Fermin Romero de Torres as he relates his story to Daniel Sempre in the fifties. Daniel is now married with a young son and helping his father run the family bookshop, which is struggling to survive. The appearance in the shop of a mysterious stranger who threatens to expose Fermin's secret, means that after all these years he at last has to tell Daniel the truth about his past. Daniel and Fermin find themselves embarking on a dangerous adventure teeming with lies, reprisals, resentment and suspicion as they search for the truth.

This third novel in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series I found to be a real page turner that I finished far too quickly, leaving me eagerly awaiting the next instalment due to the ending leaving us knowing there is so much more to come. I can recommend this to anyone that enjoyed the first two, although you will be surprised in that this is a much easier to follow instalment. Still I am left wondering just how the author is going to tie together all the storylines into the final novel. There is a lot left to be explained to the reader, some of which I am a little confused about but have no intention of mentioning here for fear of spoilers, we will just have to wait, hopefully not to long!

Links to my reviews of the first two books in the series.
The Shadow of the Wind           The Angels Game

An extract from the book can be read by visiting Carlos Riiz Zafon's Website
A video trailer without spoilers can be watched on Amazon here

Author Profile

Carlos Ruiz Zafron was born in 1964 in Barcelona. He is the author of six novels, including The Shadow of the Wind and  The Angels Game. His work has been translated into more than fifty languages and published around the world, gaining him millions of readers.He divides his time between Barcelona, Spain and Los Angeles, California.      

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 his writing.

I have chosen to read this title as the letter P 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.   

One Last Love by Derek Haines

Ebook: Equivalent of 150 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2012 
Source: Amazon Kindle Store purchase
First Sentence: 'So, this is it then?'
My opinion: Well written but personally unsatisfying.

I have to say this disappointed me firstly as it turned out to be a novella which for some reason always leaves me feeling a little cheated, not sure why but probably for the same reason I do not often read short stories. I prefer my choice of reading material to be something that can transport me to another world for more than one session. Secondly I have been reading blog posts by this author for sometime now and have always found him to be a highly entertaining writer, this just did not meet my expectations of his writing. Maybe I just picked the wrong book he certainly has plenty to choose from but it seemed to make sense to pick a recent one, although this is also unusual for me I normally like to work my way through an authors back catalogue first. Is Derek Haines an author I will read again?  At the moment I am not sure, although looking at the comments on his Goodreads Profile I probably should do so. Checking my files it appears I registered as a reviewer with Derek Haines last year and he sent me a  PDF copy of his novel Louis. I was never able to read and review this as I had problems with my Sony eReader which has since been ditched in favour of my much loved Kindle. I had already been in contact with the author about problems with the file, so somehow when I lost it completely I did not have the nerve to contact him again. Instead I went to the Amazon Kindle Store back in March and downloaded for the princely sum of  £1.97 'One Last Love'.

While this is a well written novella I just found it unsatisfying for the reasons given above, I am sure others will love it for its succinctness, the very thing that put me off.  I am also a bit of a stickler when it comes to editing/proof reading of books and I have found that ebooks can tend to be rather annoying in this matter, often containing many more errors than one should find in a properly edited publication. A couple are acceptable but more leads me to think the publication has not been sufficiently proof read. Another disappointment then as I found more than a couple in 'One Last Love'.

Putting aside my personal prejudices this was a beautiful love story that is also extremely sad and cannot fail to move you as it is set in of all places a hospice, a disturbing setting indeed. The protagonist is Bonnie who is moved to the hospice to live out his final days in as much comfort as possible. As his life fades away he has so many memories which come floating back of his wife and son who both predeceased him. Facing his own mortality he tries to hide his fear with bravado but is forced to realise the depressing reality he faces. The other residents he meets at the hospice make him see that he has led a very prejudiced life and one person in particular turns his opinions on life and love upside down.

Derek Haines has written an extremely heart wrenching tale that will appeal to those that like a succinct but emotional read.

Author Profile

I have taken the liberty of copying Derek's profile from Goodreads as it says it all perfectly in his witty 

Writer, storyteller, Aussie and Swiss.
Derek Haines is an author of genre fiction, essays and poetry. His works range from historical fiction with Louis, to The Glothic Tales, a trilogy of science fiction farce, to dark contemporary romance, including One Last Love, Dead Men and For The Love Of Sam. His satirical essays and novellas such as My Take Away Vampire and And Uneducated View of Sex, Food and Politics then clearly fall into the tongue in cheek genre.
His passion for writing started with poetry before moving into essays and then later, genre fiction. Although his works cover a wide range of settings and genres, his writing style and voice communicate with, and engage readers through his characters, who are always less than perfect, yet have an endearing appeal. 
Most of all, the stories told by Derek Haines are about people and their feelings, regrets, hopes and struggles with life, love and sometimes calamity. His characters never take the classic hero and heroine form Just ordinary people, but with extraordinary qualities that makes their story worth telling. With splashes of black humour and satire, his stories can develop from the simplistic to the complex and back again, leaving the reader to decide if it is time to laugh or cry. Or both.
Born in Australia, but now living in Switzerland with his wife and a black cocker spaniel, his stories cross a wide geographical range but often draw from elements of his life and experiences in the two countries he calls home. From the rugged, dry and hot desert country of Australia and its crowded cities, to the cafés of Europe and the peaks of the Swiss Alps. The hustle and bustle of Sydney to the quiet life in the Swiss countryside.
When not writing, he is usually doing what he equally enjoys. Teaching English.

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 his writing.

Goodreads Author Profile    Author's Official Website

I have chosen to read this title as the letter O 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.   

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ninepins by Rosy Thornton

Paperback: 308 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Sandstone Press 2012
From the author in return for an unbiased review. 
First Sentence: Half past two: she was certain she'd said half past two.

Review Quote: 
"Thornton is skilled at drawing out the poignancy of ordinary life." - The Guardian 
My Opinion: 
 Strong sense of place.

Ninepins is only the second novel I have read by this author and I have already discovered how important the role of the landscape plays in her writing. In The Tapestry of Love she brought the countryside of the French Cévennes alive on the printed page and this time she does it again with the very contrasting countryside of the Cambridgeshire Fens. Along with the strong sense of place Rosy Thornton also writes about characters that one feels are realistically portrayed. There is quite a strong element of suspense in Ninepins as the story unfolds as she explores the mother and daughter relationship that has become complicated by the arrival in their lives of a stranger with a very troubled past.

For some reason all the time I was reading this novel I kept thinking it had familiarities with a novel I had read previously. I was right if you have read Watershed you will understand what I mean as in that novel storms fire and floods cause some personal watersheds to be reached. The author also brings her story alive with her descriptions and details of the wildlife, landscape and flood defences of the Somerset levels. Ninepins might be set in the Cambridgeshire Fens but it certainly covers similar issues, so if you enjoyed Maggie Makepeace's novel I have no doubt you will also enjoy this one.

Ninepins is the name of the house nestled deep in the fens that is home to Laura and her daughter Beth. In the annexe to their home, an old pump house they usually have a lodger. The latest of these is Willow a teenager leaving a care home to live alone for the first time, who has been recommended to Laura as a suitable lodger by the girls social worker Vince.  The story centres around the three females and the emotional tangle of their situations as the world that Laura previously thought so orderly seems to be spiralling out of control. A daughter growing up too fast and wanting more independence than Laura is prepared to grant her plus a vulnerable older teenager who seems to be a volatile threat to their family life. Will it all end in disaster, I recommend you read it to find out.

As a novel about mother daughter relationships and how we have to adapt to change within these relationships it will especially appeal to those already parents. Although that does not mean those without children will not enjoy it but just relate to the story in a different way.

Author Profile

Brought up in a village in rural Suffolk Rosy Thornton now lives in the Cambridgeshire Fens with her husband, two daughters and two spaniels. In addition to writing fiction, she lectures in law at the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of Emmanuel College.  She also admits to being a season ticket holder at Ipswich town Football Club.
She describes her fiction writing as romantic comedy with a hint of satire - or possibly social satire with a hint of romance.
Rosy Thornton is the author of four previous novels of which I have only read one the latest  The Tapestry of Love - 2010. The earlier ones More Than Loveletters -2007,  Hearts and Minds - 2008 and Crossed Wires - 2009 are all on My Wishlist and I hope to have the opportunity to read them sometime.

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.

 Goodreads Author Profile   Facebook - Rosy Thornton     Rosy Thornton - Official Website

I have chosen to read this title as the letter N 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.   

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Glass Guardian by Linda Gillard

Ebook:  Kindle edition 439 KB
Genre:  Fiction, Romance, Paranormal
Publisher:  Amazon Media
Source: From the author in return for an unbiased review.
First Sentence: Love, loss and loneliness...Ruth Travers knows all about them.
My opinion: Once again Linda Gillard has surprised me.

With temps of up to 40C this summer I have enjoyed the excuse of the weather to spend time reading during the heat of the day. I have read some great novels this summer and with The Glass Guardian, once again Linda Gillard had me engrossed in her writing. In fact this time her writing, which I have always enjoyed finding all her previous novels to be five star reads, actually exceeded my expectations as I was unsure about the paranormal aspect. I need not have worried this is another five star read, an unconventional romance maybe but it still had me captivated.  
An imaginative storyline but surrounded by reality with similarities to Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, although I enjoyed The Glass Guardian more. It was possibly an unusual choice to read on a hot summer afternoon but on the other hand how cooling it was to be transported to the wintry scenes of Skye and the fantastic cover really worked well for me, making Tigh-na-Linne the house where the story unfolds come to life in my imagination. The paranormal genre is a new departure for the author although if you have read her earlier novels you will know it is a subject she has touched on before with characters that play ghost like roles. However her characters are portrayed they are always very believable and realistic with women that are normal as the heroines and some gorgeous sounding heroes, the ones in The Glass Guardian are no exception. Once again she has written an enthralling story about friendship, family, love and music recurring themes in her novels.

To say too much about the storyline here would be entirely wrong as the reader needs to discover how everything connects for themselves in this very sensitive and emotional love story.

The Author's Website Synopsis is just enough to tempt you to read without spoilers, so I am précising it here, with just a few added comments of my own. The protagonist of the story Ruth Travers has lost a lover, both parents and her job. When death strikes again she finds herself the owner of a beautiful but dilapidated home on the Isle of Skye, where she used to spend her summer holidays as a child. Ruth prepares to put the house on the market, but discovers that she is not the only one to consider in this sale, plus she begins to think she might be going mad as she suspects that she might be falling in love. Ruth's  research into her family history and in particular the musical career of her aunt are what in my opinion tie this novel's narrative together.

Once again Linda Gillard has surprised me with her talent for making each new novel different from the previous one, if you have not yet read any of her books I urge you to do so. In my opinion it is better although not necessary to read them in the order of publication as I feel by doing this I have appreciated her development as an author. I am already eagerly awaiting what ever novel she has planned for us next even if it is a paranormal one!

Author Profile

I have featured Linda Gillard 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. 

The information used today is courtesy of her Goodreads Author Profile

Linda Gillard graduated from Bristol University, and then trained as an actress at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. Whilst under-employed at the National Theatre, Linda developed a sideline as a freelance journalist. She ran two careers concurrently for a while, then gave up acting to raise a family and write from home. 
Twelve years later, she re-trained as a primary teacher and taught in Norfolk for some years. She moved to the Isle of Skye where she lived for six years in a house on a hill overlooking the Cuillin mountain range, featured in her first novel. She now lives with her husband on the Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands. 

Emotional Geology, was short-listed for the 2006 Waverton Good Read Award 
A Lifetime Burningwas published by Transita in 2006. 
Stargazing, set partly on Skye, for which film rights have been sold, was published by Piatkus in 2008. 
It was short-listed for Romantic Novel of the Year 2009 and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award, the UK's first environmental book award.
House of Silence, her 4th novel, was published as a Kindle e-book in April 2011 and sold 12,000 copies in just 5 months.
Untying the Knot, was published as a Kindle e-book in August 2011. 

The Glass Guardian,was published as a Kindle e-book  in June 2012.

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, September 6, 2012

Choral Society by Prue Leith

Paperback: 376 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Romance
Publisher:  Quercus 2009
Source: Oxfam Bookshop in UK
First Sentence: The women behind the counter were filling orders and shouting to customers over the lunchtime din..

Review Quote:  Prue Leith was not just born to cook ... she was also born to write - Daily Mail 
 My Opinion:  Romance for grown ups.

Prue Leith is a name you probably associate with cookery rather than fiction although it is now many years since she gave up that career to become a novelist. I have read three of  Prue Leiths earlier fiction offerings starting with Leaving Patrick , in 1999, Sisters in 2002, and The Gardener  in 2008 by which time I was writing short reviews on Bookcrossing Her novels are not great literature but they are enjoyable and realistic, as she draws on her own life experiences as a business woman and a cook. Her writing will appeal to all overs of contemporary fiction and the grown ups amongst us will appreciate the fact her heroines are older women.  Although sometimes a little predictable she provides exactly what one should expect if you pick up a novel in this genre, a feel good romance.

Choral Society is about the ups and downs in the lives of three women in their fifties who meet in a choir group and as different as they are they soon become friends. So close in fact that they become the sort of friends that are always there for each other, a little too quick for the real world, in my opinion friendships like theirs normally take years to grow. Our three protagonists are Lucy, Joanna and Rebecca all very different women with their own problems to overcome, which of course they do by the end of the novel. Lucy is a recently widowed food journalist, who joins the choir as her daughter feels it will help her overcome her grief. Joanna a single entrepreneurial business woman for whom failure is never an option, has joined the choir to learn to sing, as up to this point she never been able to hit a note. Rebecca is the extrovert and flirtatious single mother unashamedly searching for a man to support the lifestyle she yearns for.

Prue Leith makes their lives interesting enough to keep one reading as the choir teaches them a lot more about themselves than how to sing. When they decide to combine their talents to turn a Cornish hotel from a dated failure into an up market success there is bound to be problems. Of course they are resolved but I am not spoiling the story by telling you here. If you are fan of the genre of a certain age I do not think you will be disappointed.

As I mentioned in the review above I have read three of Prue Leiths earlier fiction offerings starting with Leaving Patrick  in 1999, followed by Sisters in 2002, both before I was reviewing my reading material. The Gardener I read in 2008 by which time I was writing short reviews on Bookcrossing

A Serving of Scandal published last year is on my Amazon Wishlist as is her autobiography Relish, My Life on a Plate which was published in February 2012.   
Whilst doing my research for this post I came across an interesting video called Meet The Author from the BBC which after watching made me interested enough to put the title on my wishlist. I have included the link for those of you that might also want to take a look. 

Leaving Patrick
The Gardener
A Serving of Scandal




Autobiography Publication Date 27th September 2012
Author Profile.

Prudence Margaret Leith was born on February 18th 1940 in South Africa. Her very successful adult life has been spent mostly in London where she still lives dividing her time between there and Oxfordshire. As an entrepreneurial business woman she has been a successful cook, restaurant and cookery school owner, food writer and since 1995 a novelist.

If you are interested in learning more about the life of Prue Leith I recommend her Official Website where there is lots of fascinating information and a gallery of photos. 

Photo and Biographical Information is with thanks to the following sites where you can also find out more about the author and her writing.

Goodreads      Prue Leith - Official Website     Prue Leith - Wikipedia