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Thursday 30 April 2009

Book news - Richard and Judy's Summer Reads

The Bookseller reports that the list for Richard and Judy's Summer Reads is about to be announced. The list contains books by Julian Fellowes, perhaps best known for the Oscar-winning screenplay of Gosford Park, and Sue Miller, who has been a favourite of mine since I read The Good Mother many years ago.

Richard and Judy's TV careers may be waning, but their influence on book sales continues to be significant. Watch out for the listed titles in your local high street very soon.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Book news - Orange Prize shortlist and free download

I'm not sure if it is a gender thing, but I often find Orange shortlisted books more accessible than those in the Booker prize. So I was interested to see that the 2009 shortlist was published yesterday. Visit the Orange Prize website for the full list and links to pages about the individual books.

The Bookseller reports that Bloomsbury is making one of the shortlisted books, Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie, available as a free download for just 24 hours, starting at midday (British time) today, 22nd April. The given link to Bloomsbury isn't yet working at the time of writing, but if you are interested it is definitely worth checking out after midday today.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Bad Friends

By Claire Seeber

I love a good psychological thriller and Claire Seeber’s second novel doesn’t disappoint.

After ending a destructive love affair, TV producer Maggie Warren is involved in a freak coach crash. Lucky to be alive she’s invited to be a guest on a chat-show for survivors at the company where she works. However, the crash has affected Maggie’s memory and she can’t quite recollect what happened before the accident.

When fellow survivor, the beautiful but emotionally damaged Fay Carter appears on the same show, claiming Maggie saved her life, she can’t remember her at all. Neither can she recall the strange work experience boy, Joseph Blake, who says he knows Maggie, or why her boss is blackmailing her. Worse than that, Maggie can’t remember the events that led her to split from Alex, the love of her life, who won’t take no for an answer.

When Maggie starts getting anonymous phone calls and mysterious bouquets of lilies with messages of condolence, even though no-one has died, and her flat is ransacked she knows she’s in real trouble. Convinced that someone is trying to push her over the edge she leaves London and stays at her house in Cornwall with actor, Seb, who says he’s falling in love with her, but even there Maggie’s past mistakes keep reaching out to haunt her.

Bad Friends is a dark and gripping novel about fame and obsessive love, and also explores an increasingly immoral TV industry – something the author knows about having worked as a TV director herself. The world she describes is convincing, the characters compelling and the suspense builds nicely throughout, keeping you guessing until the very last page.

Reviewed by Karen Clarke

Monday 13 April 2009

Being Normal

By Stephen Shieber

Firstly, I’d like to say what a pleasure it is to be able to review another collection of short stories for bookersatz.

Being Normal is a great affirmation that short story writing is alive and well! In this volume, Stephen Shieber has given us a diverse selection of stories that evoke every emotion going.

I love the way he can change key so effortlessly, both from story to story and within stories. ‘Happy Birthday, Son’ starts out in light-hearted tone (and incidentally had me feeling a little like Stephen had been eavesdropping on my life!), but by the end it had moved me to tears.

There are some unforgettable characters in these pages. I particularly liked Midge in ‘Suburbia’. ‘Harry’s always telling her not to believe that she’s the centre of attention. But it’s hard. She can only see herself, feel herself.’

It’s difficult with a collection like this to pick out favourites; they work so well as a whole. I did particularly like ‘A Little of What You Need’ though. The premise was so intriguing and the way the story unfolded was hugely satisfying.

Throughout all the stories, the writing is inspired. Excellent imagery and great use of language give the tales a sense of immediacy and reality that stays with the reader long after the story is finished.

Stephen has tackled some uncomfortable and challenging topics in this collection. And he’s done it with wit, elegance and insight. If you’re a fan of the short story form – and even if you’re not – I can highly recommend this book.

I look forward to reading further work by Stephen in the future.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Sunday 5 April 2009

Dead Man's Footsteps

by Peter James

Dead Man's Footsteps is the fourth in a series of crime novels featuring Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. It's his best so far, though there is a fifth one, Dead Tomorrow, planned for release in June 2009. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. The pace was spot-on: not so fast that the plot gets confused, a problem with some lesser thrillers, but enough to keep you hooked the entire way through the story.

I can highly recommend this book, and indeed the whole series. Anyone who likes crime thrillers will be in for a treat. If this is not your usual choice of genre, then I would still encourage you to read Dead Man's Footsteps, as it's quite simply a great story and well told.

The settings; Brighton, New York and Melbourne; are very well described, though the Australian scenes are more broadly painted. The characters are all engaging, even the minor ones seem real. Admittedly I was already familiar with the main character and his immediate colleagues, having read the first three books.

It's a multi-stranded plot, covering three continents and the time line spans from the events of "9/11" in 2001 until 2007. This adds richness, not complexity, and each of the story threads is a page-turner in its own right. The strands are eventually related by Grace and his team, as they slowly but surely get to the bottom of the mystery and the crimes. The ending is far from predictable and, for followers of Grace's story, has a twist at the end. Or does it? It's implied but not spelled out, so I'm just going to have to read the next instalment this Summer.

Reviewed by Captain Black