Archives for book review

My Porridge & Cream read: Rachel Dove

Today I’m delighted to welcome romance novelist Rachel Dove. Her ‘Porridge & Cream’ read is Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris which Rachel summarizes as ‘telepathic waitress meets vampires and shapeshifters in the deep south of Bon Temps, finds love and the answers to her very existence.’ “It was 2009. My second baby in fourteen months had not long been born, and having two boys under two while my husband worked long hours was hard work. I was studying for a degree and writing in my spare time, with dreams of being an author and teacher when the children were older. My days consisted of looking after my children and the house, staying awake and reading to escape, to relax. I remember seeing an advert for the new HBO True Blood series, and seeing it was based on a book series. I immediately went online, newborn in one arm, and found the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. I immediately bought the full set of what she had written so far, and devoured them. They kept me sane for weeks, and made my world feel less small, more exciting than nappy changes and nipple cream. Night feeds meant pages of vampires
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Categories: Book Love and Porridge & Cream.

Book review: Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener

When a new arrival in the Cotswold village of Carsley brings competition for the attentions of James Lacey, Agatha Raisin is tempted to turn her back on her neighbour and make a reckless decision and return to London. As usual, Agatha’s decision-making is suspect and she gets herself deeper into trouble. But observation of James and her rival in love, Mary Fortune, at the gardening club give her hope that James is not convinced by Mary’s obvious charms although Mary seems universally loved by the rest of the village. Another murder mystery in Carsley gives Agatha, ably aided by James, ample opportunity for nosiness, trespassing, the making of lots of general assumptions, all tempered by common sense and observation of human nature. Sometimes Agatha seems to have a death wish when it comes to relationships, she admits she was never good at making friends, perhaps she is likeable because she is not perfect. On occasions she is rude, grumpy and arrogant. MC Beaton’s creation – this is the third in the Agatha Raisin series – is an enjoyable well-written mystery more akin with Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, than with Miss Marple. If you want an easy read one
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: At Mrs Lippincote’s

Oh the delight at discovering a new author. I can’t remember where I stumbled across Elizabeth Taylor, but she seems to be the “novelist’s novelist” with fans ranging from Valerie Martin and Kingsley Amis to Sarah Waters, Jilly Cooper and Elizabeth Jane Howard. At Mrs Lippincote’s is Taylor’s debut novel, first published in 1945. It is a minutely observed account of a family in wartime. Roddy is posted away from London and so rents a house from a widow, Mrs Lippincote. The landlady remains ever-present in the house through her family photographs on the mantelpiece and her possessions in the cupboards. Julia’s life has a transitory feel, she is where she is because of her husband and war, war which is ever-present on every page, and she is curious about the life of the Lippincote family. This is not a war novel about bombs and sirens, it is the snapshot of a normal family living in abnormal times. The Davenants live at Mrs Lippincote’s with their sickly, seven-year-old book-obsessed son Oliver, and Roddy’s cousin Eleanor. Eleanor, in love with her cousin, finds new friends via a fellow schoolteacher. Julia becomes close to the Wing Commander, Roddy’s boss, while Oliver makes
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Death in Holy Orders

A sandy cliff collapses, a theology student dies and his father suspects foul play. And so Adam Dalgliesh returns to St Anselm’s, the theological college which he visited as a boy. And so this murder mystery by PD James is cut through with Dalgiesh’s memories. “When secrets are unspoken and unwritten they are lodged safely in the mind, but writing them down seems to let them loose and give them the power to spread like pollen on the air and enter into other minds.” So writes college housekeeper Margaret Munroe in her diary. She found Ronald’s body and was advised by Father Martin, a priest at St Anselm’s, to write about her experience as a way of coming to terms with what happened. Does she know a secret and write it in her diary? Ronald’s death is declared accidental, a second staff member dies naturally. But then there is a third death and Dalgliesh is put in charge of the case. His familiar team of Kate Miskin and Piers Tarrant are accepted uneasily into this closed community which is secretly worried the building houses a murderer, but outwardly tries to behave as normal. Included in the mix of clergy, teachers
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Categories: Book Love.

My Top 5… novels about paintings

In the course of my research for Connectedness, I have found some wonderful novels and non-fiction about art, artists, paintings, sculpture and creativity. Here are some of my favourites. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt Buy nowNot a novel about artists, but about the power of art over one 13-year old boy. Theo Decker is caught in a bombing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art during which his mother is killed, he sees a red-haired girl and becomes obsessed by her, and he steals a painting. The Goldfinch is the story of what happens to Theo and how his triple obsessions dominate his life. Won the Pulitzer in 2014. One of my all-time favourites. Currently in development as a film. Read my review here. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier  Buy nowMore than two million copies sold worldwide, a film starring Colin Firth and a translucent Scarlett Johansson, do not detract from the brilliance of this novel. Tracy Chevalier says she now feels like a totally different writer from the one who wrote this novel. A story of a painter, his household, a maid and 17th century Holland. I was most captivated by the details of Vermeer’s painting
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Beside Myself

A novel about identity, about identical twin sisters. Do you recognise what is fake and what is true? One sister is prettier and cleverer than the other, and she is unkind to her twin who seems downtrodden, bullied, teased and not so bright. Then a childhood prank goes wrong which affects the two girls for the rest of their lives. Helen and Ellie play a cruel trick on a neighbour, they swap clothes and re-do their hairstyles appropriately (Helen wears a plait, Ellie is in bunches) and act like the other one does – Helen assertive, Ellie cowering. It is Helen’s idea, but when it is time to swap back Ellie refuses. Beside Myself by Ann Morgan is thoughtful, at times creepy and disturbing. The story is told from Ellie’s point of view, that is Ellie who used to be Helen. Hellie – Ellie who became Helen – is now a TV presenter. Helen – who is now Smudge/Ellie – is struggling with mental health problems. Confused, I was a little. After the switch, both girls seem to be accepted without question by friends and family, despite their obvious personality differences. Their mother has met a new man and is
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Master of Shadows

Master of Shadows starts with a historical note about 1453 and the advance of the Ottomans on the eastern Christian empire of Constantinople. Rumoured to be among the city’s defenders was a Scot called John Grant. Neil Oliver – historian and TV presenter – takes the real life Grant and fictionalizes him in this, his debut novel; a novel rich in detail, historical context, colours and smells. It starts with disparate snapshots: a boy lies in a meadow and feels invisible; a stranger arrives at a Scottish village; a woman, chopping wood, feels threatened; a young girl leaps from a high wall, expecting to die. A Moorish solider, tall and imposing with his curved blade, arrives in Scotland at the castle of a Lord. Secretly he is seeking a specific woman. He had fought in wars alongside her husband and promised to keep her and their son safe if he should die. Badr becomes a surrogate father to the boy and teaches him everything he knows, later they fight side-by-side in battle. Leña lives amongst nuns. Given her name – which means ‘firewood’ in Spanish – I thought was a Spanish woman but in the memories of her childhood we
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Due Diligence

An accountant, at the beginning of a crime novel? Stick with it because what at first appears to be a quiet first chapter takes off with a briefcase full of cash and leads to money laundering, assault, murder and all sorts of financial shenanigans. This is the first in the Jenny Parker series by DJ Harrison. Set in the business world, and underworld, of Manchester, accountant Jenny Parker is sent to conduct due diligence of a company’s finances. That briefcase full of cash, £20,000, is the beginning of the trouble for Jenny which sees her lover dead and risks her marriage, her son, and her life. A quick-moving story, Jenny is a likeable heroine who finds toughness she never knew was harboured within herself. The storyline jolts around a little but DJ Harrison has drawn a support network around Jenny, including the wonderful security boss Gary. The financial and business background is well constructed, and the fraud all too believable. To read DJ Harrison’s thoughts on writing, life and crime, click here or follow him on Twitter. If you like crime, try:- ‘Business as Usual’ by EL Lindley ‘An Uncertain Place’ by Fred Vargas ‘Eeny Meeny’ by MJ Arlidge ‘Due Diligence’ by
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Please Release Me

This book by Rhoda Baxter really grew on me. It was a trifle slow to start with lots of everyday detail, and I wondered where the story was going. And then there is a huge jump and the story flies. I finished reading it on a plane, exactly the right sort of book for my location as I was completely unaware of the time. This is a romantic comedy about tragedy, grief, death and… no, I won’t give away the clever twist. It also questions how well we actually know the person we are closest to. The endpoint of a lot of romantic comedies is a wedding. This book starts with one, and a car accident. We meet Sally, who is marrying Peter. Sally is bright, bubbly, seems manipulative, and has a gambling problem. I can’t say I took to Sally, who is the first character we meet. On the surface this seems a light and fluffy read but there is much more going on. After the accident, Peter recovers but Sally is in a coma. After months of no response from Sally, Peter meets Grace, another hospice visitor. Their relationship triggers all sorts of issues for the three main
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Stormy Summer

This is not my usual sort of book. I guess I grew out of chick lit novels three decades ago. But this book made me laugh. So I’ll put a warning up front for the sensitive: the book starts with a sex scene. But don’t let that put you off. Yes, this is a fun read as author Suzy Turner takes her eponymous character Summer on a relationship road trip. For a year she has been manless and therefore sexless, and when she does meet a nice guy it goes wrong for an unexpected reason [I did see this coming, but it still made me smile]. So, Summer and her best friend Gwen fly off to the Algarve for two weeks of intended flirting, laughter and girly gossip. Of course when she isn’t looking for a nice man, she stumbles over one. Turner is good at writing physical comedy scenes. Summer is a likeable klutz, we all have/had a friend like her at some point in our lives. She is prone to misunderstandings and is rather gullible, accepting the most obvious explanation of a situation rather than thinking ‘what if?’ This is a coming-of-age story, Summer learns to look beyond
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Sweet Caress

This is a tour through history, via the life story of Amory Clay, photographer, born 1908. In 1977, from Barrandale in Scotland, she looks back at her life from schoolgirl to 1920s Berlin, 1930s New York, pre-war fascist riots in London, France in the Second World War, Vietnam in the Sixties and a hippie commune in California. In Sweet Caress, William Boyd uses the same technique that was so successful in Any Human Heart: slipping a fictional character into a grid of true events. It works, again, just. The lines between fact and fiction are satisfactorily blurred, when Amory meets someone new I found myself asking, ‘is this a real person or an invented one?’ I read this book quickly, the drive of historical events pulling me through. I didn’t quite connect with Amory, I’m not sure why. Possibly, because the only viewpoint we see is hers. I never really got why men were drawn to her so. She only sleeps with five men in her life, neatly there is one for each segment of her life. One scene I could have done without, a description of her first lover after sex made me cringe. Boyd is strongest when writing
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Did You Ever Have a Family

Everyone by now must know the premise of this novel by New York literary agent Bill Clegg. A vacation home explodes, a family is wiped out. This is the story of those who remain, of grief, of memories and regret, of resentments and prejudice. This is a very affecting novel, it feels almost voyeuristic, invading the privacy of those who are grieving. It is clear that Bill Clegg writes from the heart, from his own experience, not only of grief but of the Connecticut landscape, the setting, and the secondary theme of drug use. This novel is a study of how ordinary life can be torn apart by tragedy, so mind-blowing that the irrelevance of real life must stop. But daily life doesn’t stop, not really, day follows night, as June discovers as she drives from east to west coast. This is one of those books I will buy as hardback. I want to keep it, and re-read it often. To read more about how Bill Clegg writes, click here. If you like Did You Ever Have a Family, try this:- A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara If I Knew You were Going to be this Beautiful I Never Would
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Categories: Book Love.

The Baking Bookworm reviews ‘Ignoring Gravity’

“This book deals with a lot of issues: adoption, family bonds, infertility but I wouldn’t say it was an overly heavy or complex read either.  I could see it being an enjoyable, easy weekend read,” says book reviewer Laurie at The Baking Bookworm [below]. Read Laurie’s review in full by clicking here.   To read what other readers are saying about Ignoring Gravity, click here. Want to know more about Ignoring Gravity? Watch the book trailer. ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: IGNORING GRAVITY #bookreview by @bakingbookworm http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1C7 via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.

Book review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

If you can, read this book by Karen Joy Fowler without reading any reviews or comments beforehand. There is a mammoth twist, which is best avoided. I am one of the lucky few who didn’t read a spoiler before I started reading, I knew only that it was about sibling love. But even so, I did spot the surprise way before it happened, and consequently then read on waiting for the ‘twist’ promised on the cover. Which left me a little deflated. I don’t know why, I expected the twist to be near the end. This is a very clever story, packed with philosophy, contemporary references such as Star Wars to Korean vocabulary. Rose is a student, looking back at her childhood and the disappearances, at different times, of her sister Fern and her brother Lowell. The story darts around the timeline and Rose tells different versions of her life story as she comes to terms with her life so far. Mostly this method of storytelling worked for me, but on a few occasions I admit to losing patience with Rose who I found an irritating unreliable narrator. I kept reading because the story is unusual, but my incredulity was
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: The Light Years

If you haven’t read this book [it is the first in a series of five], you are in for a treat. Elizabeth Jane Howard died last year at the age of 90 and this prompted me to buy ‘The Cazalet Chronicles’. I recently read them on holiday, back-to-back and know I will re-read them many more times. This is a great family saga, a glimpse of upstairs and downstairs as World War Two threatens the Cazalet family. Over the course of these five books we see the changing social geography of England through the prism of this family, the changing lives of the women and servants, wartime privations, the threat to the family timber business as they face up to the reality of fear. Oh how I gobbled up these novels. This, the first, introduces us to the family: the patriarch William and his wife The Duchy, their three sons – Hugh, Edward and Rupert, and their wives – and daughter Rachel. As a new war threatens, the hidden wounds of the Great War have not healed and there is no appetite for another. The family gathers at the Sussex house, Home Place, which is the hub of the action.
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Categories: Book Love.

How Paula Hawkins writes

Paula Hawkins “The set-up is often the fun part. You can set up all these scenarios and all these red herrings, but drawing all those strands into a believable conclusion is actually incredibly difficult to do in a way that isn’t hackneyed… It’s a really hard thing to make that final fifth a convincing ending.” [in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, October 31, 2014] The Girl on the Train is a fantastic thriller, but I think there is a misconception that only the writers of thrillers worry about laying clues and red herrings. All novels need storylines which tease the reader to keep reading, to turn the page, to read one chapter more before turning the light out. Laying clues about characters, their past, their secrets, their betrayals, hopes and dreams, can be as complicated as plotting a thriller. Perhaps the clues are not as dramatic as in a thriller, but still there needs to be a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to follow. Read my review of The Girl on the Train. For more about the film of the book, and Paula Hawkins’ second thriller, click here. See how these other novelists write:- Hanya Yanagihara Anne Tyler
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: An Uncertain Place

If you ever hear anyone say ‘plog’, then you know they have read this crime novel. Totally different to any other crime novel I have read, this is my first Fred Vargas and will not be my last. It is the tale of fear, passed on from one generation to the next. Inevitably the tale is embroidered a little along the way, misinterpreted, but still half-believed. Believed enough to act on it, to prevent the fabled terror from continuing. The trail starts in London: shoes are found outside Highgate Cemetery, with the feel still inside them. Next, two gruesome murders. Many unrelated strands come together and finally the pieces fall into place in a tiny wooded village in Serbia. This is my first Commissaire Adamsberg book. I love discovering a new author, knowing there are many books just waiting to be read. Fred Vargas has created a quirky policeman – I particularly liked Adamsberg’s relationship with his one-armed Spanish neighbour Lucio. Plog. To read an interview in The Daily Telegraph with the intriguing Fred Vargas, click here. If you like ‘An Uncertain Place’ try reading these other authors in translation:- ‘Snow White Must Die’ by Nele Neuhaus ‘Doppler’ by Erlend
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Amnesia

I am sorry to say I was hugely disappointed by this book, and I’ve never felt let down by a Peter Carey book before. At first I thought it was my fault – I started reading it when I had the flu so perhaps I wasn’t concentrating, not following the plot – as I read on my flu disappeared but the Amnesia problems continued. Now, a couple of days after finishing it, I can re-arrange the story in my mind. Washed-out journalist Felix Moore is commissioned to write the biography of Gaby Baillieux, accused of cybercrime: releasing a virus into Australia’s prison system which also affected the US prison system.  Felix is kidnapped – this is where I started to get confused – and abandoned in a swamp with a typewriter, catering size packs of red wine, and boxes of cassettes and diaries from Gaby and from her mother Celine. Celine and Felix knew each other as youths. The guy funding the biography is Woody Townes, who has bailed Felix out of trouble in the past. Woody’s motivation was unclear. You can tell I’m still confused, can’t you? I was drawn to this book by the promise of Gaby’s cybercrime
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Mobile Library

Stuffed with book and movie references – from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe to The Terminator – if Mobile Library by David Whitehouse was a film it would be described as a ‘road movie’. Really, it’s a book about running away to find yourself. Chapter One, titled ‘The End’ is reminiscent of Thelma and Louise and The Italian Job. A mobile library van stands at the edge of cliffs, surrounded by police. Inside are Bobby, Rosa and Val. We don’t know who they are or why they are there: such an incentive to keep reading. Twelve year-old Bobby lives with his father and his father’s girlfriend Cindy, a mobile hairdresser who paints a look of suspicion onto her face every morning with her foundation. Bobby misses his mother and saves anything of hers he can find: hairs from her hairbrush, scraps of paper. When his schoolfriend, Sunny, offers to protect Bobby from the bullies by turning into a cyborg like The Terminator, neither of them realize what that really entails. Bones are broken, blood is spilled, until Phase Three when Sunny ends up in hospital and disappears. Bobby, alone, passes the time by peeling wallpaper off his bedroom walls.
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Categories: Book Love.

Captivating ‘Ignoring Gravity’ makes another ‘best of’ list

Ignoring Gravity has been chosen as one of the 10 ‘Favourite Books of 2014’ by book blog Dreaming with Open Eyes. Described as “well written, emotional and very captivating,” DWOE’s reviewer Isabell Homfeld read 84 books in 2014 so I am so thrilled that IG made her list. Click here to read DWOE’s top 10 books of 2014. Read what other readers are saying about Ignoring Gravity.   ‘Ignoring Gravity’ by Sandra Danby [UK: Beulah Press] Buy now And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: IGNORING GRAVITY nominated by @DWOE_REVIEWS http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1sI via @SandraDanby #books
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Categories: Book Love and My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity'.