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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