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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