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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