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Saturday, 13 November 2010

The Forgotten Garden



by Kate Morton

Kate Morton is a young Australian writer who lives in the Brisbane hinterland. She has been a fan of fairy stories since her childhood and has used this love of fantasy in this big, fat, delicious novel. The book, a work of historical fiction, is peppered with a wonderful set of characters and places where the reader feels part of the unravelling mystery.

The story is full of tragedy, secrets and discovery. There are three story lines happening, ranging from the present to early 20th century Victorian times, and all are tied together to create a suspenseful story of a family over several generations. The transitions between these periods create great tension, for example, the heat and frangipanis of the Brisbane setting is such a strong, marked, contrast to chilly Victorian England.

Morton uses wonderful descriptions, especially of the places she grew up in. As one who has experienced many a sub-tropical summer in Brisbane, her imagery captures the heat:

‘It was one of those desperate Antipodean spells where the days seem strung together with no gaps between. Fans do little else but move the hot air around, cicadas threaten to deafen, to breathe is to exert, and there is nothing for it but to lie on one's back and wait for January and February to pass...’ (Exactly, but now we have air conditioning!)

While some of the twists in the tale aren’t too difficult to predict, half the fun is finding out if you’re right and the other half is seeing which unanticipated twists Morton will throw in.

At the centre of the tale is Nell. Nell is secure in her identity and knows what she wants in life. Everything changes though, when on her 21st birthday her father reveals he is not her real father, her family is not her real family and she was, in fact, found on the Maryborough Wharf at the age of four. Her true origin and heritage are unknown. This news devastates Nell, as it would most readers, cracking the foundation of her life.

After Nell's death, it is her granddaughter Cassandra who must uncover the mystery of the little girl lost. This mystery takes her to Cornwall, to a cottage she has inherited from Nell. Here she discovers far more than she expects. In particular, she uncovers the long guarded secrets of the Mountrachet family, and of their ward, Eliza Makepeace. Eliza is the most fascinating character in the novel. From a young age she makes up stories to scare and fascinate those around her. Later, she puts these dark fairytales to paper, and these appear in the novel itself in the Victorian segment, making for a magical setting, mystery, and a fight between good and evil.

The characters are vivid, wounded and flawed in interesting ways that feel more Gothic than depressing. The story could be described as a combination of Daphne du Maurier and The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett puts in an appearance in the story.) The places are often as vivid as the characters, whether it’s the garden and cottage in Victorian England, Nell’s home in Australia in the now very trendy Brisbane suburb of Paddington, or a flat in London.

This is the second book of Morton's. If you can, chase down her other novel, international bestseller The Shifting Fog, every bit as breathtaking as The Forgotten Garden. I may review it next.

Reviewed by L’Aussie at L’Aussie Writing

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Winner!

I'm very pleased to announce that the winner of 'The Silver Locket' is Fee. Further details can be found on Debs' blog.

Thanks very much to Debs and to Margaret James for allowing Bookersatz to be involved in this.

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Silver Locket



by Margaret James

'The Silver Locket' is set around the time of the Great War. Rose Courtenay is a well brought up young lady, who’s been raised to keep her mother and suitable acquaintances company until she marries the man her parents have chosen for her, whether she is in love with him or not.

She meets Alex Durham, a man of questionable parentage, who lives nearby with his uncle in a dilapidated house, and when Alex drunkenly asks Rose to dance, she rebuffs him despite feeling a disturbing spark for him and continues to talk with her proposed fiancé. Her parents encourage her to accept Michael’s marriage proposal, but although he’s handsome and charming, she suspects it’s not her that Michael is really in love with. Then, when Rose discovers that Alex is to be married, she reacts in a way her upbringing and family cannot understand and find hard to accept.

Rose volunteers as a nurse in London and although she’s not very good, she perseveres and joins the VADs with a friend. Alex, is in the infantry and spending the war fighting in the mud-strewn trenches. He’s injured and ends up being sent to the hospital where Rose is nursing. Despite her initial misgivings, she ends up caring for him, as his scars begin to heal and he slowly gets better. The two become close, and although she knows he’s a married man, Rose can’t help wanting to make the most of what little snatched time she is able to enjoy with Alex.

However, these are troubled times, and when her friend’s sister asks for her help, Rose makes a choice that will embroil her in an incident that will change her relationship with her family, and ultimately the course of her life. With so much stacked against them, how can they ever have a hope of a future together? Especially when an old adversary is so intent on stopping Alex from being with the woman he loves.

I loved this book and although I’ve researched this era fairly well, I still learnt so much and couldn’t help being drawn into Alex and Rose’s struggle to be together for however short a time. She is a gutsy heroine, who despite everything she’s been brought up to believe, finds she has more strength than she could ever have imagined, and Alex, handsome, deep and battling his own demons, has to face many obstacles in his path.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Whether you usually read historical novels, or not, this is a romance that will keep you reading page after page.

Reviewed by Debs Carr

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

War On The Margins




By Libby Cone

This is a very unusual book. Based on Libby Cone’s MA thesis, it is a fictionalised account of some of the real events that took place on Jersey during the Second World War.

The story is interspersed with original documents from the time, which add depth to the narrative and increase the chilling sense of reality that runs through it. Most people will be aware of the treatment of the Jewish population of Jersey during the Nazi occupation, but this account brings it vividly to life.

The counterpoint to the part of the narrative that deals with occupation and war, is the telling of some very different love stories. A shy young woman desperately trying to hide her partly Jewish heritage and an escaped prisoner; two women working for the resistance; an elderly Jewish woman and her infirm husband. All of their stories show how love can triumph even in the squalor and terror of war and the brutality of the Nazi regime.

The real life story of the artists and resistance workers Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore is cleverly woven into the story and adds a new dimension. Their story is fascinating.

I do recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this period and wants to read a very human account of it. I was gripped by the story throughout.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society



by Mary Ann Shaeffer & Annie Barrows

I had this book in my 'To Be Read' pile for months, probably even a year, and wasn’t sure if I was that interested in reading it despite the good reviews. However, my aunt asked me what I thought of it and couldn’t believe it when I told her I hadn’t read further than the first line or two. Knowing she’d be asking me again, I thought I’d take another look and now I’m a convert.

The book is set in 1946. Juliet Ashton, an author, is bored with the book she’s supposed to be writing and needs to find inspiration. Dawsley Adams, a farmer from Guernsey, nervously writes to Juliet telling her he has a book that once belonged to her and asking for her help in locating the address of a London bookshop. They begin writing to each other and Dawsley tells Juliet all about being a member of the 'Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' and how the mysterious club came into being during the years that Guernsey was occupied by the Germans.

More members of the Society, as well as other locals with a grudge towards them, write to Juliet, filling her in on the background of their society and the tragic events that they endured during the war years. Juliet gets to know these extraordinary characters through their letters and discovers that the inhabitants of this small island, so close to France, are far more intriguing than she could have ever imagined.

I loved this book. As you read the letters, you feel as if you’re watching a particularly good wartime film. It’s beautifully written and the only negative about this book is the fact that the author, Mary Ann Shaeffer died just before it was published and so it’s one of a kind. I’ll be keeping my copy as I know it’s a book I’ll be returning to time and again.

Reviewed by Debs Carr

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Tapestry Of Love



Please pop over to my other blog to find out how you can get a free booklet of recipes featured in 'The Tapestry Of Love.'

Friday, 8 October 2010

Started Early, Took My Dog




By Kate Atkinson

I love Kate Atkinson and I love Jackson Brodie, so I knew I was going to enjoy this book – the fourth in the Brodie series – before I started.

Although there’s no reason why this book shouldn’t be read as a stand-alone novel, I would always recommend with a series like this that they ideally be read in order. In any case it would be a shame to miss out on the other three books (Case Histories, One Good Turn and When Will There Be Good News), as they are all fabulous.

One of the joys of reading this series is the development of Jackson Brodie as a character through time, and also the examination of the shifting sands of his relationships with the significant people in his life.

As ever Kate Atkinson’s writing is rich with imagery and allusion. And this time an overlay of historical detail adds another dimension. The shocking real life events of Yorkshire in the seventies provide a backdrop and counterpoint to the present day events of the novel.

Difficult themes are tackled in the course of Jackson’s latest adventure. Death, murder, illness, infertility, treachery and betrayal are all woven in to the story. But Kate Atkinson manages to do this in such a way that the beauty of human life and the joy of just existing shine through the pain. Despite the depressing subject matter, it is not a depressing book.

Reading Kate Atkinson is always like disappearing into a different and slightly disconcerting world where reality is thrown into sharp relief. This exchange sums it up for me.

‘‘You can see why Dracula landed here, can’t you?’ the driver of the Avensis said.

‘Dracula isn’t real,’ Jackson pointed out. ‘He’s a fictional character.’

The driver shrugged and said, ‘Fact, fiction, what’s the difference?’’

Each character is drawn exquisitely and even the minor ones take on a vivid presence. From guesthouse landlady of a certain age, Mrs Reid, to Canadian security guard, Leslie, they all have a life of their own.

Without giving anything away, I really hope the ending indicates that a further Jackson Brodie book is on its way. I hope I don’t have too long to wait. But, meanwhile, I might just read this one again.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Winner!

The lucky winner of a copy of Trade Winds by Christina Courtenay is Lane. Thanks to everyone for joining in and congratulations to Lane. Please contact Debs via her blog so that you can receive your prize.

Thanks for all the lovely comments everyone.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Trade Winds


by Christina Courtenay

'Trade Winds' is Christina’s first novel and as expected when you read a book published by Choc Lit, the hero, Killian Kinross, is irresistible.

'Trade Winds' starts in 1732 in Gothenburg where Jess van Sandt feels sure she’s being duped by her calculating stepfather, who for some reason seems determined to foil any attempts by suitors to marry her.

Killian Kinross, a strong, worldly Scotsman with family problems of his own, travels to Gothenburg with a letter of introduction from his grandfather, Lord Rosyth, to Jess’s stepfather who immediately gives him a job. Determined to find a way to make his fortune and prove to his grandfather that he was wrong to doubt him, let alone disinherit him, Killian jumps at the chance to travel to the Far East on an expedition with the Swedish East India Company.

Before going he is asked by Jess’s stepfather to accompany her deep into the countryside where she is being sent as a punishment. Desperate to be free from her controlling stepfather, Jess proposes to Killian, suggesting that a marriage of convenience between them can benefit them both financially as well as allowing her to be rid of her nemesis once and for all.

They marry in secret and Jess, scared of her feelings for Killian, rebuffs him. Hurt and frustrated, Killian goes to his ship and can’t wait to set sail to China. Unbeknown to him, Jess isn’t his only problem. Killian also discovers that he has to contend with his cousin, Farquhar, who, wracked with jealousy, is determined to stop at nothing to ensure Killian isn’t around long enough to become Lord Rosyth’s heir.

Everything about this book is enjoyable, from the gloriously haunting cover to the beautifully written story inside. The descriptions of places, people and lifestyles so cleverly interwoven throughout 'Trade Winds' made me feel like part of Killian and Jess’s world as I read their intriguing story. I wanted them to be together, but couldn’t see how it was ever going to work despite their mutual, though secret attraction to each other. Their own personal difficulties with each other and the outside dangers they have to overcome make this a book to savour.

Reviewed by Debs Carr

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Boy With The Topknot: a memoir of love, secrets and lies in Wolverhampton





by Sathnam Sanghera

Sathnam Sanghera grew up in Wolverhampton in the 1980s, a child of Sikh immigrants from the Punjab. The youngest of four, with two older sisters and one older brother, he had a happy, quirky childhood. But then, at the age of 24, he discovered the family secret - and it changed everything.

This book is the story of Sathnam's re-evaluation of his family relationships in the light of a secret which had been kept from him all his life. It is also the story of the two cultures into which he was born - the Sikh Punjabi culture that his elders tried to maintain, in the face of the secular Western culture which surrounded them - and the effect on Sathnam of belonging to them both. When the story opens, Sathnam is trying very hard to keep the two cultures separate, yet he desperately needs to create a bridge between the Punjabi and Western parts of his life.

Sathnam tells this difficult story with great compassion, considerable self-awareness, and delightful self-deprecating humour. Although this is a story of struggle, conflict, unhappiness and bewilderment, it is not in any sense a 'misery memoir'. It provides a fascinating insight into a tightly bounded way of life which I have glimpsed but never understood. After reading it, I felt I understood my Sikh friends better, but I also felt I understood myself better. I think this is because Sathnam pulls off that difficult writer's trick of using one individual's experience to illuminate the lives of others. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Queenie

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Faithful Place




By Tana French


I loved this book. Great characters, gripping plot and a real ‘lose yourself in it’ world. The basic premise is that an undercover cop returns to his childhood home to find that events that happened many years ago weren’t quite what they seemed.

The fast-paced plot takes you with the main character, Frank Mackey, as he revisits the past and tries to uncover a mystery which will change the entire way that he looks at his life.

There is a large cast of characters in Faithful Place, and we get to see them as they were then and as they are now. This is skilfully done, and in the characters in the storyline set in the past the reader can see the seeds of what they will become.

Even the smaller characters seem very real. I particularly liked Detective Stephen Moran. One of the few characters who only features in the present, he is instrumental in unpicking the past.

Faithful Place, set in the Liberties area of Dublin, also feels real. The atmosphere and geography of the street, especially the doomed Number 16, are crucial to the story and very vividly written.

The relationship between Frank Mackey and his young daughter is also central to the plot as it unfolds, and the exquisite drawing of this relationship is a big part of the success of the story.

This novel has everything – characters you’ll really care about, a plot that’ll keep you guessing until the end and a cracking pace.

And finally, something you don’t really expect in a crime novel – an ending so poignantly beautiful that it will make you cry.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Too Many Magpies



By Elizabeth Baines


I loved the depth of emotion in this novel. The core of ‘Too Many Magpies’ is a tale of family, motherhood and adultery; but there are deeper layers to it than that. It also talks of depression, illness and fear and different ways that people find of coping and facing the world.

One of the themes running through the story is the balance between natural and unnatural things and how we as humans respond to both, and use science to help us understand and explain them.

Another recurring theme is magpies and what they signify. Their presence in the novel is used to good effect to build up tension and give an unsettling feeling to the narrative.

I really enjoyed the writing style in this book. Elizabeth Baines uses beautiful language and exquisite and well-chosen imagery. Every line in the novel is well balanced and well placed and adds to the elegance of the whole.

In particular, the way she talks about food adds a vivid extra dimension to the book. On the very first page she talks of ‘the Smarties on the cake’ that ‘went frilly at the edges’ due to osmosis. This sets the scene for the clever weaving of themes to come.

This description of tomatoes is also very effective as a metaphor for a state of mind and the state of a relationship. ‘The fruits were small, turning red while still the size of marbles, pinched by the dying season, and the exhausting of their soil.’

‘Too Many Magpies is an incredibly thoughtful novel and as such will appeal as much to the mind of the reader as to the heart. I definitely recommend it as a book to lose yourself in.

Too Many Magpies is published by Salt Books and you can find their website here.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Monday, 30 August 2010

The Bone Mill




By Nicholas Corder

According to the blurb, ‘The Bone Mill’ is a novel for teenagers with a robust constitution. I would have to agree that it’s not for the faint-hearted, but as an adult reader I found it compelling.

Set in the potteries in the 1820s, ‘The Bone Mill’ follows the story of young Joseph Ryder who struggles to stay one step ahead of the workhouse. His world is reduced to a struggle to stay warm and fight off hunger. The novel joins him just as he is trying to make a way for himself in the world. Little does he know how complicated life is about to get.

Nicholas Corder paints Joseph’s world convincingly. Life in the Bone Mill is harsh, revolting and sometimes terrifying; and this account of it is unflinching and very real. The freezing weather during which the tale is set adds another layer of bleakness and the cold becomes another enemy for Joseph to overcome.

This novel draws you into Joseph’s world from the start. Will he ever get enough money together to buy a warm coat? Will his landlady Gerda be able to use her skills as a medium to contact his dead mother? And who is the man with the healing hands and why is he so important to Joseph?

I found this a gripping read which carried me through the story at a brisk pace towards the ending which brings a gut wrenching surprise with it.

Although aimed at young adults, I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the historical setting, and to anyone who appreciates a well-plotted and fast moving story. This was an excellent read.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Tapestry Of Love




By Rosy Thornton


I really enjoyed Rosy Thornton’s previous novel, ‘Crossed Wires’, so I was delighted when she offered to send me a copy of ‘The Tapestry Of Love’. If anything, this novel is even better.

Everything about ‘The Tapestry Of Love’ hits exactly the right note. From the beautiful evocation of the French setting to the skilfully drawn characters, it all works together to make a whole that kept me turning the pages until well after midnight.

All the characters are real, rounded and sympathetic. The main story is Catherine’s as she moves from England to a new home in the Ćevennes mountains, but the people she meets there and the people she leaves behind are all equally well-drawn.

Patrick Castagnol, Catherine’s neighbour, is the perfect male lead character. From the moment he steps onto the page, the reader can picture him and can totally empathise with Catherine’s changing feelings towards him.

As well as Patrick, I also really liked Catherine’s daughter Lexie and her French neighbours the Bouschet’s. Rosy Thornton has convincingly portrayed the initially awkward, but increasingly warm, encounters between Catherine and the new community she finds herself living among in France whilst also mapping the changing sands of her relationships with those she has left at home.

Another layer is added to the story by the exploration of Catherine’s relationship with the needlework and tapestry from which she is endeavouring to make her living. This is central to everything else that happens and enriches the narrative, as does the sensual description of food and meals which pervades the book.

I recommend this book highly. I loved it.

You can read my review of 'Crossed Wires' here.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Without Alice




By D J Kirkby

‘Without Alice’ is a story filled with real emotion. As you follow the main characters you get to experience with them love, hate and everything in between.

Stephen has a secret. A very big one, and as you read ‘Without Alice’ you will become aware of the nature of his secret and its deep repercussions. As the plot unfolds, you discover how his life with his wife Jennie and son Marcel is only part of his story. Slowly the reader discovers how his life means nothing without Alice.

This novel explores some important and timeless themes. It covers childbirth, motherhood, family, fatherhood and friendship. It highlights how all of these can come under strain from the pressure of lies and secrets.

The story of ‘Without Alice’ is fast-moving and gripping. I found myself wanting to read ‘just one more chapter’ before I could put it down.

The reader is finally rewarded with an ending which brings all the strands of the complex plot together in a satisfying conclusion.

‘Without Alice’ is published by new publisher Punked Books and you can buy a copy here.


Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Dance Your Way To Psychic Sex




By Alice Turing


This novel is deliciously different. It is ambitious in its storytelling and poignantly beautiful in its writing.

As I read it, I found the story incredible and intensely believable at the same time. The narrative requires the reader to take huge leaps into a world where very strange things happen, but because the main character, Henrietta, is so real the reader believes so strongly in her that everything that happens makes sense just because it’s happening to her.

In ‘Dance Your Way To Psychic Sex’ Alice Turing has created an intricate and satisfying story. On one level the novel is about the New Age sensation of Psychic Dancing and as such raises questions about truth, reality and illusion. But on another level it is about raw human emotion and the ways in which people can harm and heal each other. Both these strands make for compelling reading.

The story is carried by a strong cast of characters. All are complex and flawed, but equally, all are appealing. From the crooked-toothed Denzel to the persistent Tawny, the characters are engaging and three-dimensionally tangible.

The setting of the novel in Hebden Bridge is inspired. Light touches of description like, ‘The houses clamber above one another like turtles leaving a pond’ set the scene beautifully and if Psychic Dancing is going to happen anywhere, then Hebden Bridge is the place.

The writing sparkles with vivid imagery and clever choice of words. This description of Henrietta eating a biscuit shows the marvellous use of language. ‘She imagines clouds of sugar swirling inside her mouth, little eddies and sweet spots circulating and surrounding her teeth.’ The novel is full of similar wonderful nuggets of description.

If you want to read a novel that will entertain you and make you think, this one is for you. There is refreshing originality in the writing and the subject matter is gloriously unusual.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

This book is being launched in a very different way. If you are interested in reading it – and I do recommend it – go and check out the website here.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Henry VIII: Wolfman




By A E Moorat


When I began to read A E Moorat’s last book ‘Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter’ (reviewed here) I didn’t know what to expect, and it took me a while to ‘get’ it. But this time I knew I was in for a romp through history that would present events in a totally unexpected manner and with a (un)healthy sprinkling of blood.

Henry VIII: Wolfman is a ‘macabre, terrifying and hilarious journey through Tudor England as you’ve never seen it before … Henry VIII is transformed into a rampaging wolfman.’

One of my favourite characters in this book is Mistress Hoblet, the wife of the Witchfinder General. Their exchanges are some of the funniest in the book. ‘If you ever call me dear again, I’ll shove so many needles in your arse you’ll look like a pincushion,’ she tells him.

Readers of this book will experience Moorat’s ‘alternative reading’ of history already perfected in the Queen Victoria story. Along the way you’ll read about how Sir Thomas More got himself into a very sticky situation, and find out the real reason why Katharine of Aragon failed to produce a male heir.

Anne Boleyn makes an appearance too, beguiling the king just as he succumbs to the even stronger urge to transform into his wolf nature. Jane Seymour crops up somewhere very unexpected and makes perfect sense of how she became Anne’s successor.

The final chapter, prior to the epilogue and the afterword, contains a brilliant surprise and the last line of the afterword is delicious.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Monday, 19 July 2010

Hurting Distance



by Sophie Hannah

Hurting Distance is a twisty psychological thriller that makes Lynda La Plante's stories seem like they're filled with fluffy kittens and bunnies. Predictable it is not; I didn't see what was coming at all.

The main characters are very well portrayed and often contrary ― in terms of their believable attributes, rather than plot errors, of which I found none. Some of the minor characters are a little weaker, though this doesn't much mar the overall story.

The plot is wonderfully dark and convoluted, just how I like a thriller to be. I had no idea what to expect and was very pleasantly surprised. There were quite a few good twists and shocks along the way. Hannah has a new fan and I now intend to read 'Little Face', an earlier novel. Her style was unusual (to me) at first, using second-person narrative in some chapters, but I very quickly acclimatised to it.

Some of the themes are disturbing, as they cover rape and its mental aftermath, so this book is probably not suitable for the faint hearted.

Hurting Distance is available from Hodder, ISBN 978-0-340-84034-4.

Reviewed by Captain Black

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Sex & Bowls & Rock & Roll



by Alex Marsh

Let me say, upfront, that I’ve been reading and enjoying Jonny B’s Private Secret Diary since 2004, so I’m not exactly a neutral reviewer of Sex & Bowls & Rock & Roll by Alex Marsh (who blogs as JonnyB). I’ve read many ‘books of the blog’ over the years, and this departs from the norm. It’s not just a set of posts slapped together between paper covers, it’s a well-written and very entertaining comic memoir.


Some of the characters and situations will be recognisable to fans of the Private Secret Diary. However, the characters are more rounded and interesting than they appear on the blog. Also, the situations are set within an innovative non-chronological structure that Alex Marsh uses to increase pace and comedic impact. Talking of comedy, the book is very witty indeed and made me laugh out loud several times.


Alex Marsh has made self-deprecation into an art form. His book is steeped in Englishness: real ale, bowling greens, hideous social embarrassment. You will enjoy this book if you like amusing books about Englishness (e.g. Kate Fox’s ‘Watching The English’ or Dara O Briain’s ‘Tickling The English’), or funny fiction about men of a certain age e.g. by Nick Hornby or Dave Hill, or television programmes like ‘Three Men In A Boat’, or virtually any kind of memoir or comedy.


I hope there will be a second volume. Bowls, Banjo and Baby? Bring it on!


Reviewed by Queenie

Friday, 2 July 2010

My Name Is Memory



By Ann Brashares


‘You are my first memory every time, the single thread in all of my lives. It’s you who makes me a person.’

‘My Name Is Memory’ has a very intriguing premise. It is a love story between two individuals which lasts across history and several lifetimes as each of them is reincarnated over and over again.

This gives rise to a novel structure which goes backwards and forwards in history gaining momentum and tension as it goes. From about halfway through the novel onwards, it really was impossible to put down.

The two main characters – Daniel and Lucy – are very likeable, and the extra layers of back story as we find out about their previous lives make them unusually rich and satisfying.

I enjoyed the writing in this novel very much. Some sections were very touching, for example when Daniel says, ‘There are short periods of joy you have to stretch through a lot of empty years, me more than most. You have to make them last as well as you can.’

Because the story moves through different time periods and travels around the world, it is complex and Ann Brashares displays great skill drawing it all together.

The events of the last few chapters are gripping and the nature of the ending means that the story lives on in the reader’s mind.

For an unusual and gripping story, I recommend this highly.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Road Closed




By Leigh Russell


Having read, and loved, Leigh Russell’s first novel ‘Cut Short’, I was very much looking forward to reading ‘Road Closed’. I wasn’t disappointed.

I found the plot structure very different from that of ‘Cut Short’, but just as satisfying. As expected, the characters were very real and well textured. There are some really great baddies in this one, as well as some heart-breaking cameos of victims.

Sophie Cliff is a particularly interesting character. She appears at the beginning of the novel in explosive circumstances, and events take her on an unexpected and disturbing journey. This isn't just a detective story. It's a story that will make you think about the psychological consequences of life events.

One of the things I found most skilful in the writing was the complexity of the resolution. This novel keeps you guessing until the end and packs some powerful surprises.

Readers of ‘Cut Short’ will be familiar with DI Geraldine Steel who made her debut solving a series of murders in that book. In ‘Road Closed’ we get a deeper insight into Geraldine’s character and find out about some events from her past which are beginning to catch up with her.

I’m thrilled that there is a third novel in the series on the way and look forward to reading it and reviewing it for Bookersatz.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

You can see my review of ‘Cut Short’ here. Leigh Russell blogs here.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The Beacon




by Susan Hill

This is short – 150 pages – and if it hadn’t been by a novelist I trust completely, I’d have been much less willing to pay the cover price of £6.99. But you can’t, in my opinion, get much better than Susan Hill.

The deceptively simple story seems initially to be the recent history of a family on a North Country farm. We see it mostly through the eyes of Mary, the eldest daughter who ended up staying at home, eventually looking after her aged mother, even though at one stage she seemed the most likely to leave for good when she went to university in London.

The book starts with her mother dying, and everything is then seen in retrospect, skilfully interspersed with the present, gradually giving away more and more of what has changed over the years, in such a way that we pick up significant details almost without realising it.

One of the things that stands out is that Mary and her brother and sister don’t want to inform their other brother, Frank, of their mother’s death, because of what he has done to them all. It turns out that Frank has written a bestselling book about his childhood, which has lost the family all their friends and their reputation.

There are so many layers to this, even though the style is deceptively simple. How you feel about some of the issues could to a large extent depend on your own life experiences, and even changing attitudes over the years. The only part I felt unsure about was the ending, but that’s down to personal taste and is deliberate on the author’s part.

Even though it seems a simple enough tale, there’s too much depth, too many undercurrents, to be gleaned from one reading, so I’ll be reading it again. Given that, it’s probably just as well the novel is relatively short, after all.

Reviewed by Rebecca Holmes

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Book news - The Orange Prize

The winner of the 15th Orange Prize for fiction is The Lacuna by American author Barbara Kingsolver, which defeated, amongst others, the Booker Prize winner, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.

Irene Sabatini won the Orange Award for New Writers 2010 for The Boy Next Door.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Some New Ambush



by Carys Davies

'Some New Ambush' is an extraordinary collection of short stories from award-winning writer Carys Davies.

Ranging in length from two to twelve pages, her stories take us on a tour of the emotions: humour, disappointment, joy, love, resentment, revenge and utter, heart-wrenching sadness.

Featured on the shortlist for several prestigious prizes, this is Davies’ debut collection and it reveals her as an imaginative and playful talent. Sometimes the stories build slowly to their climax and sometimes they turn on a dime, but each is a beautiful depiction of a world – be it real or really fantastic – and the lives, dreams and frailties of the people living within it.

My favourites include a story of marriage and friendship in modern day Chicago, a portrait of a woman’s love for her dog and a beautiful vignette about whalers in the early twentieth century. Each is written in delicious yet sparing prose that encourages the reader to savour the story slowly, like a sweet treat or a savoury canapé. I found myself sitting on station platforms to finish a piece before catching my next train and some of the stories lived with me for days, demanding that I pause before reading on.

It’s been a while since I read any short stories but this collection has really reignited my love for the form and I recommend it highly.

Reviewed by Claire Marriott who blogs as Bucks Writer

'Some New Ambush' is published by Salt. You can find their website here.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Like Bees To Honey



By Caroline Smailes

Those who have read previous novels by Caroline Smailes will know how beautifully she writes, and how well she creates worlds which resonate and chime with all the complexity of reality.

‘Like Bees To Honey’ is no exception, and although it tackles some very difficult subjects and takes the reader to challenging and dark places, this novel has an added ingredient. It has a delicious sense of humour.

Despite the fact that the story has an aching sadness, it also has moments of joy and an ability to make the reader smile in recognition.

The Maltese setting of ‘Like Bees To Honey’ is inspired. Island lore along with its sights, sounds and tastes, form an important part of the novel. Malta is not just a setting - it is a character in its own right.

Language as ever in Caroline Smailes’ work, is important. Words, sounds and repetition are used to increase impact and the Maltese language has a place of honour in the text.

I visited Malta many years ago, but reading this novel I felt like I was back there. The descriptions of locations in Malta, such as the roads of Valletta and the church in Mosta are vivid and textured. When Nina travelled to Sliema with her mother, I could almost feel the swaying of the yellow Maltese bus.

For most of the novel we are in the company of Nina as she deals with feelings of loss, guilt and rejection. But we also meet the stroppy house ghost Tilly, the blessed angel Flavia and an enthusiastically beer-swilling Jesus. More than anything else, it is this cast of characters that gives the novel its unique edge.

This novel is like nothing else I have ever read. The writing is exquisite, the subject matter is daring and original, and the structure is perfectly balanced. Now that I have finished reading it, I long to read it again.

Oh, and it has Simon Cowell in it.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Saturday, 22 May 2010

South Of Broad




by Pat Conroy

‘South of Broad’ continues Pat Conroy’s penchant for big sweeping novels exploring topical themes in gorgeous settings. One of my favourite novels of all time is his wonderful ‘Beach Music’ so I eagerly anticipated a good read in his latest tome, set in Charleston, South Carolina.

Told in five parts, Conroy tosses the reader around between different times and events. It begins in June 1969, when the protagonist, ungainly high school junior Leopold Bloom King is asked by his mother, the school principal, to befriend some incoming students. That day Leo meets the friends he will grow with into adulthood.

There are the brother and sister orphans, Starla and Niles Whitehead; charismatic twins Sheba and Trevor Poe, Leo’s new neighbours; aristocratic ‘old Carolinians’ brother and sister Chad and Fraser Rutledge; Chad's equally patrician girlfriend, Molly Huger; and Ike Jefferson, one of the first African Americans to be integrated into the public school.

They triumph over class and race lines, which become irrelevant except for good-natured bantering. As adults, some of them marry each other. The stunningly-beautiful Sheba will become a sexy Hollywood movie star with a foul mouth, while Trevor, a gifted musician, will head to San Francisco where he will become the toast of the gay community.

The group experiences many events which are often tear-jerking. They win and lose big football games coached for the first-time by a negro, they venture en masse to San Francisco to find and rescue AIDS’s-ravaged Trevor, they are stalked by Sheba and Trevor's psychotic killer of a father, and Leo frets over his estranged, damaged wife. And then hurricane Hugo hits Charleston.

Right from the beginning of the story, there is a discordant note which continues to play throughout the novel, the baffling suicide of Leo's gifted elder brother. Leo was only 8 when he found his brother, ‘his arteries severed, dead in the bathtub…’ This horrific incident led to ‘a collective nervous breakdown’ in the remaining family members. The truth of the suicide finally revealed is equally horrific.

I turned the pages with relish. It’s one of those books you don’t want to finish, but can’t stop reading. It is lush, lyrical and beautiful. The beginning of the novel is a hymn of praise to ‘the delicate porcelain beauty of Charleston.’ Anyone who cherishes Conroy's work will love this novel.

Reviewed by Denise Covey who blogs at L’Aussie

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Blood At The Bookies




By Simon Brett

This novel is part of Simon Brett’s series of Fethering mysteries, of which there are several. I picked this one because I liked the title.

I’ve always enjoyed crime fiction and Brett was recommended to me by a friend as a good example of the amateur sleuth sub-genre. I really enjoyed it and will definitely be reading more in the series.

Brett’s two protagonists Carole and Jude are well-drawn and likeable and the setting of Fethering with its back-up cast of characters is convincing. This particular tale follows an intriguing murder involving a Polish man, and the plot takes in racial tension, adultery and addiction to gambling on the way.

These added elements give a multi-layered richness to the plot which is supported by realistic characters with real problems. The plot is well-constructed without being too complex and keeps you guessing about the identity and motive of the murderer right to the end.

Another thing I liked about this book was the depiction of the relationship between the two main characters. Very different women, Carole and Jude are reliant on each other in a way that neither of them would probably be prepared to admit.

This is an all-round good read and a real page-turner. Another nice touch is that there is an extract from ‘The Poisoning In The Pub’ the next in the series, at the end. Guess I’ll be reading that next then. Followed by the rest in the series.

Although I am looking forward to reading more in the series, and I’m keen to see how Brett develops the relationship between Carole and Jude across time, I did feel that ‘Blood At The Bookies’ worked perfectly well as a stand-alone novel and I would imagine that is true of others in the series.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Simon Brett’s Fethering series is published by Pan MacMillan.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Regeneration



by Pat Barker


This book is the first in a trilogy, the other two being 'The Eye in The Door' and 'The Ghost Road' (winner of the 1995 Booker Prize for Fiction). 'Regeneration' looks at how patients during the First World War were treated at the Craiglockhart War Hospital in Scotland by army psychiatrist William Rivers. Some are suffering from shell shock. Others, like Siegfried Sassoon, have problems understanding why the war is being prolonged and believe that those that have the power to stop it should do so. He writes, 'A Soldier’s Declaration' and battles with his superiors and the experiences he has witnessed on the battlefield.

William Rivers has the job of helping these troubled men find their way back to health once more, then has to decide if they are fit to be sent back to fight. As he gets to know the men and what they’ve suffered, it becomes harder for him to do so.

The relationship between Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, two poets who have been sent for treatment to Craiglockhart, is treated insightfully and the look at the horrors of what men experienced, and the ways their minds coped, is both saddening and fascinating. Pat Barker intertwines fact and fiction so well that the reader is drawn into the book completely. You can’t help feeling shocked at the way these young men are expected to both keep enduring their nightmares and then be sent back to the very place where they nearly lost their minds.

Through the book we also learn how advanced Rivers’ treatment of his patients was, and how, even though other doctors of that period managed to make great progress when treating their patients, what they did to them was almost akin to torture. Did the act justify the results he managed to achieve?

Regeneration was both disturbing and fascinating. This was the first book by Pat Barker that I’d read, however the atmosphere and feeling of that period of time is reflected so well in her writing that I’ve now ordered 'The Eye in The Door' and 'The Ghost Road'.

Reviewed by Debs Carr

Friday, 30 April 2010

Wasted




By Nicola Morgan


You can’t just read this book. You have to experience it. And you will. As you follow Jack and Jess on their journey you’ll feel the rain on your face, taste the salt on the rim of the margarita glass and hear the pure tones of Jess’s voice as she sings.

On one level 'Wasted' is a love story. It’s a tale of how Jess and Jack meet and fall in love, and how external events conspire to make things difficult for them.

On another level it is an exploration of some really sophisticated philosophical and scientific concepts.

‘Jess is spinning a coin. Not actually playing Jack’s game yet, because if you’re going to play you have to be very sure. Heads or tails, win or lose, life or death: playing the game changes things and you can’t escape its rules.’

This opening paragraph leads us into a story with twists and turns and a sustained feeling of not knowing what is going to happen. ‘Because nothing is until it is and until then everything is possible.’

The use of language in this novel is remarkable. It has great clarity and moving beauty at the same time. I love this description of Jess: ‘Her hair is a waterfall of black ice. Her eyes shine.’

I’m not going to say too much about the ending because, as I said before, you really have to experience this book for yourself. Suffice to say, the way Nicola Morgan handles it is a master stroke.

Normally, when I’m reading a book for review I make notes as I go along. With 'Wasted' I didn’t because I was too engrossed. That says it all really.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

You can find Nicola’s great publishing-related blog here, and the new Wasted blog here.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Abattoir Jack




by Christopher Neilan

Abattoir Jack is the first novel to be published by Punked Books, a new Indie publisher of trade fiction and non-fiction. I really think this Indie may be one to watch after reading this novel.

I found myself completely absorbed in this tale of twenty-two year old Jack who is stuck in a dead end job, struggling to earn enough to pay for the motel room he lives in. When he is told something he shouldn't have heard, his life begins to change, but the reader is left unaware whether this is for better or worse until the very last page. I was left thinking "superb, more please".

If you liked 'Hound Dog' by Richard Blandford then Abattoir Jack is a must read.

If you want to treat yourself to a copy then you can buy one by following this link.

Reviewed by DJ Kirkby

Friday, 9 April 2010

Death Of A Ladies' Man




By Alan Bissett


Death Of A Ladies’ Man is a different and very intriguing read. It throws you straight into a world where events alternate between crashing pace and crushing inaction.

It has some wonderful moments of insight, I particularly liked the comparison drawn between Eric Clapton’s 'Layla' and George Harrison’s 'Something' (both written about the same woman).

‘That’s the difference between love and pain,’ said Charlie, ‘right there’.

Language is bent to convey the drug-taking experience and Bissett plays with language, including how it is laid out on the page. Text strays across the page, words come adrift from sentences and letters fall out of words. This adds a different dimension to the narrative and enriches the reading experience.

The storyline has a claustrophobic feel to it which is cleverly constructed. It looks at the claustrophobia of both the protagonist's working life and also his domestic life living at home, reluctantly, with his ill mother. The novel explores ways of breaking out – for Charlie his escape is in sex and drugs.

The depiction of Glasgow in the novel also works very well – added in little light touches. ‘Beyond, Glasgow howled’, and ‘Glasgow. Streetlight burnished the huge dark blue.’

Bissett also plays with time taking us back to Charlie’s marriage, and even his childhood to throw light on his current behaviour.

Another thread uses Charlie’s status as an English teacher to explore issues about the perception of literature. This is highlighted in his relationship with his pupil Monise. ‘He fed her material – was Joseph Conrad racist? Did Ted ‘kill’ Sylvia? Was Satan the true hero of Paradise Lost?’

The strength of this novel is in its celebration of language and the use of language.

This novel is undoubtedly a challenging read, and it has quite a lot of sexual content which might not be to everyone’s taste. It is extremely unusual though and despite a certain grimness in some of the subject matter, there is a beauty in the writing.

This book is published by Hachette Scotland and the paperback is due out in May.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Eye Contact



by Cammie McGovern

I was keen to read Eye Contact, which has drawn comparisons with 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time' but, despite both books taking the reader inside the world of autism, this is a very different story.

It opens as single mother, Cara, becomes increasingly frantic after her son’s school informs her that autistic nine-year-old, Adam, has disappeared with another student - a ten-year-old girl named Amelia. Her son is found unhurt, but Amelia has been murdered. Adam is the only witness but, traumatized, he withdraws into the unresponsive world of his early childhood and stops speaking. The community is thrown into crisis, with parents fearing for their children’s safety and teachers at the school trying to help the students cope with the tragedy.

As the investigation into the murder unfolds, Detective Matt Lincoln is sceptical about Adam’s ability to aid the investigation, but Cara refuses to give up on her son. She begins her own quest to unlock the secrets inside Adam, helped by teenager, Morgan, who has his own reasons for wanting to solve Amelia’s murder. As the mystery deepens, secrets from Cara’s own past come back to haunt her and her history of failed friendships - particularly with Suzette, her high-school friend, and her clandestine affair with Kevin, Adam’s father - threaten to destroy what little security she and Adam have.

Eye Contact is a thrilling and intricate story. Although it offers some grim realities about parenting a child with autism (the author has an autistic son), it’s first and foremost a crime story, deftly blending a sense of mystery and psychological suspense before delivering a powerful and satisfying dénouement.

Reviewed by Karen Clarke

Monday, 29 March 2010

Out Of The Sun



by Robert Goddard

'Out Of The Sun' features the character Harry Barnett who also appeared in Goddard's earlier novel 'Into The Blue'. Harry is older, but by no means wiser in this novel.

The read has all of the usual Robert Goddard trademarks. A pounding plot, a huge cast of increasingly eccentric characters and an international stage. It also has mind boggling detail on the subjects of mathematics, financial forecasting and higher dimensions. It will make your brain hurt.

If you like high-powered stories with plenty of plot and an unusual setting and premise, then this is for you. Ideally you should read 'Into The Blue'first to appreciate the character development of Harry Barnett, but this book does also stand alone. Fans can also now read Harry's third outing - 'Never Go Back'.

The back cover lists a review from The Times saying that this is, ‘Undoubtedly Goddard’s most entertaining book to date’. I’m not sure about this. Yes, it’s gripping, yes it’s a great absorbing read, but at its heart is the story of a father and his tragic relationship with his son. To call it entertainment feels a bit too slight.

If you stick with it through the twists and turns, the emotions and explanations – the end will move you to tears.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Book news - Orange Prize longlist

The longlist for The Orange Prize for Fiction has been announced today and can be found here.

Have you read any of these books?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

My So-Called Afterlife




by Tamsyn Murray


Lucy Shaw has been haunting the gents’ loos in Carnaby Street since being stabbed to death the previous New Year’s Eve. It isn’t fun being stuck in a small underground building that stinks of wee, especially as your only visitors tend to be those of a slightly suspicious or less than hygienic variety and you’re invisible to them all. That is until Jeremy goes to the gents’ and is scared witless when he discovers that not only is there a teenage girl inside, but that she is a ghost.

Despite his dreadful taste in clothes and hopeless sense of humour, Jeremy is Lucy’s only connection with the outside world and she goes along with him when he finds a way to help her escape the confines of the loos for short, then longer periods of time. Jeremy persuades Lucy to go with him to the Church of the Dearly Departed. Here she meets other ghosts. Hep, a poltergeist with an increasing rage against her parents and everyone else, becomes a good friend. A beauty queen takes an instant dislike to Lucy; and Ryan is so handsome and kind, that she is positive he must be her soul mate.

Jeremy is determined to trace Lucy’s murderer and despite not feeling ready to confront her memories of what happened the dreadful night of her murder, she realizes that this madman is more than likely going to do the same thing to another unsuspecting victim. Unable to refuse, Lucy goes along with Jeremy to help him in anyway she can.

This is a Young Adult novel, but having read it in one sitting, I’m sure that whether younger or older, any adult couldn’t help but enjoy this book. The interaction between Lucy and Jeremy is excellent and amusing, and as well as the funny parts of the book and her growing romance with Ryan, there’s the underlying sadness that these characters are ghosts with pain and anguish in their pasts and a need to resolve their own issues before being able to move on.

I thought this book was cleverly written, and as well as entertaining me, it also made me cry, twice. Now I can understand why, when my daughter opened My So-Called Afterlife to have a quick peek inside, she then took it to her room, refusing to give it back until she’d finished it.

I loved it and can’t recommend it enough.

Reviewed by Debs Carr

Sunday, 7 March 2010

No Reservations



By Fiona O’Brien


This novel is the sort you can curl up with for a few hours and just forget the world.

Fiona O’Brien takes us straight into the world of waitress Carla Berlusconi and her boss, the lovely Dominic Coleman-Cappabianca. The developing relationship between these two underpins the plot, but along the way we are introduced to a whole raft of other characters.

My favourites included PJ the grieving widower who has been floating untethered since the death of his beloved wife, and his eccentric housekeeper Sheila. Charlotte, wronged wife of property developer Ossie, and her feisty mother Jennifer are also great sympathetic characters.

While loving them, you’ll also love to hate the spoilt Candy, the slightly ridiculous Shalom and her mother, and Tanya, Dominic’s scheming girlfriend.

Warmth bounces from every page of this book. I found it absorbing and intriguing and extremely well-plotted. In particular I was impressed with how all the various plot strands came together in the end.

As I moved towards the last chapter, I didn’t want the book to end. When it did I felt like I was leaving behind a group of close friends.

I’ll certainly be hoping to read more from Fiona O’Brien in the future.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Saturday, 27 February 2010

The Norwood Author




by Alistair Duncan



When I was ten years old, I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes, so I was delighted to be asked to review this book about his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Whilst scholarly in scope and attention to detail, The Norwood Author is also an accessible read and you don’t have to be an expert on Holmes or Conan Doyle to enjoy it.

Alistair Duncan gives some fascinating insights into the period during which Conan Doyle lived in the Norwood area of London. He recreates the local intrigues of the time (1891-1894) including squabbles at the local Literary and Scientific Society and the triumphs of the local cricket team both of which Conan Doyle was deeply involved with.

This book also gives tantalising glimpses into aspects of life at the time. An anecdote about a dead child, for example, illustrates the huge differences between now and then in policing technique and procedures.

What is particularly interesting are the explanations of how Conan Doyle’s time in Norwood surfaced in his writing and in the names he gave to his characters and how his love of golf, which was nurtured during this period, also began to creep into his plots. We also find out about his links to other writers including Jerome K Jerome and JM Barrie.

Alongside his discussion of the great detective Holmes, Alistair Duncan also demonstrates his own detective work in investigating and answering some questions about Conan Doyle that have previously been unanswered.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it one sitting. I recommend it to you as a good source of information on Conan Doyle, but also as an interesting snapshot of life in a London suburb in the late nineteenth century.

This and other books by Alistair Duncan are available here and you can read Alistair’s blog here.



Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Dawning




by Megan Taylor

The Dawning by Megan Taylor is an indulgent and very focussed read. The story unravels over the space of about twelve hours from New Year’s Eve onwards.

One family's secrets overflow from the first page and they sweep the reader along. Unfolding with perfect symmetry, the plot is as unsettling as the approach of a summer thunderstorm and as irresistible as the warm summer rain that follows.

I stayed up late reading this and would then wake during the night thinking about it. It's a great novel and one which I will read again.

You can treat yourself to a copy here or here and you can visit Megan at her blog.

Reviewed by DJ Kirkby

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Of Bees And Mist




by Erick Setiawan


This novel is an absolutely beautiful read. It weaves threads of magic through a cloth of reality so cleverly that it is hard to see the join. As you read you will find yourself accepting the impossible as entirely likely.

We start the story in the company of young Meridia, daughter of the mysterious Ravenna and Gabriel. We follow her as she meets Daniel and, with him, hopes to escape her house of mists only to find that things get even worse when she is confronted by the angry bees at her in-laws’ house.

There is an absolute joy in the use of language running throughout the story, and Setiawan’s descriptive powers are second to none. From the hustle and spectacle of Independence Plaza to the roses and marigolds of Orchard Road the writing is intensely visual.

Scenes are set with meticulous attention to detail. Ravenna’s kitchen full of pointless activity and the hissing of skillets contrasts with Gabriel’s forbidding study with its hopeless pursuit of knowledge.

Mysteries run through the story and carry the reader forward. What is Eva really up to? What is the source of Patina’s suffering? Will Daniel prove himself as a husband? And, running through the entire story is the intermittent presence of the ethereal Hannah.

‘Of Bees And Mist’ will truly allow you to lose yourself in another world. It is a world where strange and unexpected things happen. It is full of emotion, danger and confusion. The conclusion comes as a satisfying surprise after a twisting plot which will keep you guessing until the end.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Starting Over




by Sue Moorcroft


From the very first page when Tess Riddell is unceremoniously dumped via email by her self-serving fiancé, Olly, to the next when we see her crashing her Freelander during a particularly heavy downpour straight into the breakdown truck of the local garage owner, the handsome, but surly, Miles Rattenbury, better known as Ratty, this book keeps you reading. The constant twists and turns make you want to read just that bit more to find out what happens next.

Tess soon manages to insult Ratty, which makes her feel she probably has not made the best start to her new life in the village that she was hoping to make home. Running away is what Tess does well, and this new neighbourhood she has chosen to start again in has its fair share of characters. She rents a cosy cottage with wonky windows, next door to Lucasta, an ancient lady with more of a past than you would first imagine. Apart from wanting to be accepted, Tess longs for peace and tranquillity to create the illustrations she has been contracted to do for her agent in London.

She slowly makes friends, and as Ratty is one of the group, they begin to spend a lot of time together. With her innate distrust of men and his playboy, commitment-phobic lifestyle, do they stand any chance of getting together, let alone making any sort of relationship other than friendship work? When they do finally appear to be working out their differences, his ex-girlfriend comes along to make Tess wonder if she ever would mean anything to him at all.

This is a thoroughly entertaining book, full of twists and turns, great characters, and enticing romantic moments to keep you wanting to read on and find out if Tess and Ratty do finally overcome their differences and manage to get together.

Definitely worth reading.

Reviewed by Debs Carr

Monday, 25 January 2010

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War



by Max Brooks

Take out the letter Z and put in II and you would get a perfect telling of an actual war. The zombie war hasn’t actually happened but Max Brooks does a great job of making it seem as if it has.

The war is told to us in a collection of individual stories from different people who survived it. People from all across the globe, even those in the international space station, get to tell their story of survival.

WWZ is a follow up book to The Zombie Survival Guide, also by Brooks. Brooks actually mentions the survival guide in WWZ as a book that people used to help them.

The best part about WWZ is that Brooks uses a fictional tale of zombies to make wonderful social comments about the world today. Brooks uses real life world issues to tell his story; such as a Palestinian boy living in Kuwait refusing to believe that there are zombies, thinking that it is a trick by Israel.

The story raises the question of whether there is a victory or not. The epidemic still rages in many different parts of the world, but humanity is surviving and fighting back.

Reviewed by Mollie

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Remembrance Day



by Leah Fleming


This is a beautifully crafted book with a poignancy that will stay with me for a long time to come.

It begins with a narrowly avoided tragedy during a hot summer’s day in 1913, the result of which irrevocably ties two families together forever, setting in motion catastrophic twists in the futures of everyone involved.

Blacksmith’s daughter, Selma Bartley becomes involved with upper class Guy Cantrell. However their budding romance is discovered by his mother, Lady Hester, who will not let anything divert her from stopping this unsuitable young woman distracting her son from the future he has been trained to follow.

Guy’s twin brother, Angus, bearing the consequences of his high spirits, takes his chance to live life to the full and secretly replaces his recuperating brother on the battlefields in France resulting in a tragedy that will resonate through both families for decades.

The forbidden love between Selma and Guy is heartbreaking and the selfish, misguided actions of others force them apart and on to paths neither had ever anticipated following. Both strong-minded they separately deal with the blows life has given them; making choices that will take them away from everything they know.

This book is so beautifully written that once I’d started reading I found it hard to put it down, ending up losing hours in the story, which kept me riveted and wanting to know how, if at all possible, Selma and Guy could possibly resolve their differences.

The ending was satisfying. Having read so many books, I can usually guess what the outcome between characters will be, with this book however I didn’t know, which made it all the more enjoyable.

This is one of the best books I read last year and I look forward to reading Leah Fleming’s other novels.

Reviewed by Debs Carr

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Gates




By John Connolly



It seems like only weeks ago that "The Lovers", Connolly's most recent addition to the Charlie Parker series, was keeping me awake. And now Connolly is back with another hero who finds himself in conflict with something not entirely of this world.

Instead of a world-weary private eye with a couple of hit-man accomplices, Connolly gives us this time a small boy (Samuel Johnson) prone to engaging his teachers in philosophical debates about angels and pinheads, accompanied by (among others) a small dog, the captain of the school cricket team, and an exiled demon with a penchant for wine gums and fast cars.

Connolly has made previous excursions from the Charlie Parker universe, most notably "The Book of Lost Things", a melancholy, but captivating, fantasy featuring a boy hero but no more a children's book for all that than is, say, Stephen King and Peter Straub's "The Talisman".

And "The Gates", too, is not entirely a children's novel; more a novel for adults who wish that children's books had been like this when they were children. Footnotes abound (Adams and Pratchett have a lot to answer for) and serve to supply a home for all those jokes and observations that writers slap down in their notebooks in the hope that one day they will find a bottom-of-the-page use for them. Lavatory humour is almost entirely absent; one or two examples waft delicately across the pages to satisfy the younger audience - for this will, despite my saying it is not exactly a children's book, find a younger audience; those who would never knowingly open a Harry Potter and are, perhaps, growing out of Roald Dahl.

The plot is satisfyingly paced and involves a scientific malfunction opening a gateway between Hell and here (here being a small market town somewhere in England), and a resulting attempted invasion from the underworld. Some very unpleasant demons (a number almost straight from the brush of Heironymus Bosch) wreak havoc on police stations, pubs, and village ponds, while resourceful humans (mostly of the younger variety) find a number of inventive ways of postponing the seemingly inevitable.

The way is left open for sequels, and if Connolly can produce them without slowing down the narrating of Charlie Parker's life, then that is all to the good. Although never, perhaps, inspiring midnight queues outside branches of Waterstones, I can see Samuel Johnson and his dog Boswell inspiring a loyal following, a long-running series, cinema appearances and inflating prices for first editions. I shall just go and encase mine in bubble-wrap in preparation for that day - or maybe not. Books are, after all, for reading, and I am sure that this one will bear another once-over in future.

Reviewed by Mike Deller