Monday, 15 December 2008

Judith Lennox - Before the Storm

I borrowed this book on the recommendation of New Books Magazine. A high quality magazine dedicated for book groups and readers. It was very highly rated.
I must say I found it rather slow, and a bit light weight. It is not quite a family saga but at the same time not as weighty as usual historical fiction. The book tracks a family from 1909 until about 1942. It is a shame that we know the 'secret' from fairly early on and so spend the novel waiting for the bombshell to drop. It is peopled with a huge cast and it may be why the book appears light as we do not go behind the surface of many of the characters. I personally would not have thought there was a lot to interest a reading group but then I could be wrong.
I enjoyed the book and think it would make a great book to take on holiday or to bed when you have flu, engrossing but not too demanding...........

Monday, 8 December 2008

Barbara Ewing - Rosetta

I just loved this book. It was one of those novels that you find yourself putting down at intervals as you just don't want it to end. It is beautifully written, and is a sweeping powerful story set in the late 17th and early 18th century. The setting goes from England, to France, to India and to Egypt.
This novel really does address the issue of the status, or lack ot it, of women and children at this time. It looks at the hypocrisy of the so called society of the time, and the lengths that some women had to go to to obtain freedom. The backdrop of the Napoleonic era is well handled and interesting, and of course you cannot forget the Hieroglyphs.
A very satisfying book that you can get totally immersed in. It will also be an excellent choice for a reading group as there is much within it to discuss.

Gaynor Arnold - Girl in a Blue Dress

This book was nominated for the Booker Prize this year. I accept that is well written and well researched but beyond that I just did not get the point of the novel. It is a thinly disguised Biography of the wife of Charles Dickens, and so for me it was something and nothing. Why was it not a biography? Or if this was too limiting why was it not a factionalised account of their marriage. In this book I just kept asking myself, now was this true for Dickens or was it not? It was a great distraction. I would have preferred not to have been told that is was based on Dickens and then I could have read it as a fictional novel. Having said that it might be a good book for a reading group for just this reason. It also raises issues with women in society at that time, and the relationship the public has to fame and the famous.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Kylie Fitzpatrick - The Ninth Stone

Now this is as cracking novel. This can reallistically be called atmospheric. With a nod in the direction of Wilkie Collins here we have a true Victorian mystery novel. We have diamonds, India, dissolute Maharajahs, Kali, the back streets of London, opium, need I say more, immerse yourself and enjoy an indulgent read. This novel draws you in and goes in unexpected directions. I loved it.

Nicola Upson - An Expert in Murder

I had high hopes for this book, a murder mystery set in the 1930's. Unusually the heroine of the book is a real person the crime writer Josephine Tey. However although promising to be a richly atmospheric novel, I am afraid I found it rather dull. The characters were too thinly drawn to be of interest, perhaps because the book runs to a little under 300 pages and there are so many of them. Disappointing.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Kate Ellis - Seeking the Dead

Kate Ellis is the author of the highly readable Wesley Peterson series, see below. I was really interested to see what she would do here. This novel is set in North Yorkshire. Once again there is a link to history and also a supernatural element. I really enjoyed it. There is enough here to appeal to most crime genre lovers. I think DI Joe Plantagenet is going to be a character with some mileage.

Here we have mystery, serial killing and once again the opportunity to put our detecting skills into practice. I shall be looking out for the second in the series with anticipation

Phil Rickman - To Dream of the Dead

Readers of this blog will know that I am a a big fan of Phil Rickman. I eagerly wait his new book every year. This book can be read as a stand- a -lone but would be much more effective if read as part of the series. We now know the characters of the village so well, that there is a big emotional investment in their lives, with each new novel.
In this one, the village of Ledwardine prepares itself for flooding just as Christmas is arriving. Merrily Watkins our Diocesan exorcist and resident vicar is battling religious fundamentalists of various extremities, while also supporting her daughter Jane and lover Lol.
Throw into the mix a famous TV archaeologist intent on capitalising on Jane's find, and over enthusiastic developers intent on building over the site and we are all set for an engrossing read.
These are rich, intelligent crime novels with a bit of the supernatural thrown in. When I pick one up I know that I will be unable to put it down and will be reading late into the night. This book lived up to my expectations and now I have to wait another year for the next.......... :(

M.C.Beaton - Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison

For a complete contrast, a gentle , funny crime novel written by the author of the famous Hamish Macbeth series. Agatha is still pursuing love, still picking on the wrong type with hilarious results. Still she always solves the crime but not perhaps in ways she intended. These books are set in the picturesque Cotswolds. they are completely unchallenging, light , witty and have a real, feel good, fuzzy, warmth about them......

In this book, heaven fore fend, someone spikes the village jam making competition with LSD, the resulting fatal trips(!!!) have Agatha hot on the trail of the perpetrator!

Paul Johnstone - The Soul Collector

I have just finished reading The Soul Collector. This was a great accompaniment on a train journey to Birmingham and back! Fast paced and engrossing, it is a book that you want to finish in one sitting. I think it might have helped if I had read his first book The Death List first, as it was hard to understand why the killer was so fanatical. Some sequences in the novel ,if you thought about them ,were a bit far fetched but if you suspended believe and went with it - it was a real violent, gory, roller coaster ride! Not for the faint hearted!
Good to see some British authors beginning to crack this genre that has for so long been dominated by the USA.....

Susan Hill - The Various Haunts of Men

These books have passed me by. Thank you Gill for mentioning them. I am a big fan of Susan Hill's ghost stories, see below and wondered what a crime novel written by her would be like. This is excellent. Susan quickly sets the scene and her writing is so skilled that we are quickly immersed in the characters. I particularly liked the device in this novel in that the murderer is recording an audio commentary and so we are also drawn into detecting whom it might be. as well as the police.

Is a serial killer on the loose? Women are going missing but there seems no discernible pattern. However Detective Sergeant Freya Graffham is determined to solve these disappearances and prevent more. The ending is a real surprise!

I am looking forward to reading the next in the series.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

James Anderson- The Affair of the Mutilated Mink

This is the second of 3 house party muder mysteries set in the classical age of whodunnits. Sadly there will be no more as in this volume I notice that the publishers say that James died in 2007. This is a great shame as these are rip roaring fun, extremely silly but marvellous escapism.

In this story we have a group of movie stars arriving at Burford Hall and of course, what ho, there is a murder. There are wonderful allusions to other famous literary detectives, Inspector Appleby of Michael Innes fame , Inspector Alleyn of Ngaio Marsh fame and here Inspector Allgood of no fame whatsoever! He makes such a hash of it that dear old Inspector Wilkins has to come to the rescue, with his stock in trade answer as to his abilities to solve the murder " I doubt it, I'm not sanguine, not sanguine at all."!

Can you solve it before him, I doubt it!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

The Other Queen - Philippa Gregory

I have been a fan of Philippa Gregory's since the Other Boleyn Girl. I have also read The Boleyn Inheritance and The Queen's Fool all of which I enjoyed. I was therefore very excited when I received advance notice of this title I have always thought that Mary Queen of Scots was one of the most enigmatic and tragic queens. However, I was so disappointed in this novel. It is told through three voices, that of Mary herself, one of her em prisoners in England the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife the Countess, who is also known as Bess of Hardwick. I can't decide as to whether Philippa Gregory has decided to dumb down, or whether, it is that using the narrative device of 3 characters in the first person, that causes that feeling. Gone are the rich historical details that immerse us in the history of the period. We are left with 3 not very sympathetic characters and frankly I was bored. With the characterisation, although we hear what they think and say, we never seem to scratch the surface. I can find no sympathy for George who just comes across as a fool. Mary comes over as a lying, sulky, manipulative young woman and Bess comes over as only thinking of her silver and gold plate stolen from the Catholic Church and her household finances. We are told why they act this way but we never feel it, we are somehow disengaged.

It has made me reserve Mary S Lovell's biography of Bess of Hardwick as I am sure she must be a more interesting character than portrayed in The Other Queen. Watch out for a review soon.

Skin and Bones - Tom Bale

This is an absolutely great book that I have been lucky enough to have been sent an advanced proof copy. Look our for it! It comes out on 1st January 2009.

This is a fast paced English thriller, very much in the genre of No Time for Goodbye ( see below) that won Richard and Judy's Summer Read.

A young women walks into a massacre in a small country village in East Sussex. She survives the terrifying ordeal, but the police discount her evidence and so she joins up with one of the victim's son's to try and solve the discrepancy. This then becomes a terrifying race against time, the body count rises and I guarantee that this is a book you will not be able to put down! I spent the whole time on the edge of my seat, willing her to survive. It is also great to have a really strong female character in the lead!

Friday, 3 October 2008

When Will There Be Good News? - Kate Atkinson

I have read all of Kate Atkinson's books and I love her quirky style of writing and unusual plots. This is the third novel that features Jackson Brodie , private detective. However this is much more than a detective novel, it attempts to examine human resilience to tragedy. As usual we have several apparent disparate strands that gradually move towards a collision course. We have Reggie a 16 year old attempting to cope on her own, working as a nanny, when mother and child disappear she is the only one that appears to be worried. Poor Jackson Brodie really is in the wars in this novel, he survives barely a journey from hell, and shock, horror we discover he has married since the last novel. We also have the release from prison of a killer who 30 years previously murdered a mother and nearly all her children..............I enjoyed this once again and many of the themes would make this an excellent Book Group reading choice...........

The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy - James Anderson

This is very light reading and great fun. It is a pastiche on the country house murder mystery. All whodunnit fans will love it. Set in 1930's it is filled with extraordinary characters; ridiculous members of the British Aristocracy, dapper foreign agents, the rich Americans and a bumbling police inspector called Wilkens. So refer to the room plan, work out where everyone was and what ho, you will never get it. The solution had me howling with laughter!

The Enchantress of Florence - Salman Rushdie

I have to confess here that the only other book I have read by Salman is Midnight's Children and that was a long time ago! I am also not a big fan as a whole of the Man Booker novels, but always feel I ought to try and read at least one of the nominated titles. Well this time I picked the above and am I glad I did. This is a fascinating book strange, challenging but compelling. In this novel he intricately weaves the Mughal court of Akbar and Renaissance Italy. The plot in this novel is not the point, it is incidental to the writing, the description, the humour and characterisation. Yes we do want to know what happens to the protagonists but we are seduced by the scene setting, like the narrow alleyways of Florence that lead to treasures, like intricate Mughal paintings we are lead slowly and deliciously from beginning to end. This is a book to savour it cannot be read quickly. A triumph.

The Blood Pit - Kate Ellis

This series just gets better and better. When are they going to turn it into a TV series! The mixture of archaeology and detection is inspirational. I also like the fact that we really get to know the characters of Detective Wesley Peterson's friends, family and fellow officers. Kate deftly links 3 plots in this novel and the ending is shocking, we lose a familiar character. I didn't particularly like him, as we were lead to do so, but in this novel, Kate turns the tables and he becomes a figure of pathos and one we can be proud of. I cannot say more without spoilers.
The main thrust of the novels is the muder of a series of men who have been ex-sanguinated!!
Oh and Neil is under threat and has found a blood pit!!

Friday, 22 August 2008

The Tenderness of Wolves - Stef Penney

I read this book with one of our library book groups at Westbourne Library. I must admit it was rather late in the day, as it won the Costa in 2006. This book had a very mixed reaction. Whilst we felt that it was amazing that she could write so convincingly about a place she had never been, we all felt that many of the situations in this book were very far fetched, and as such we were unable to suspend belief. For example, would an older woman have been able to survive the punishing journeys across the Canadian Tundra? Stefs style of writing we all agreed was very good, we enjoyed her storytelling but I think what irritated us most was all the loose ends and side alleys that we were led into, There were so many characters and sub-plots that the whole novel seemed rather incoherent and although it is more true to real life the number of sub plots that were never resolved or explained at the end was largely unsatisfying. Good book for a reading group though, we talked for over an hour, without a break!

Illegally Dead - David Wishart

I have read all of David Wishart books and found them great fun. This book is no exception. If you want a quick fun murder mystery set in Ancient Rome then this book is for you. I really enjoyed this one, although, I have preferred some of the others better. The off the wall humour seems to be increasing, in a very Terry Pratchett way. I loved the reference to celebrity chefs!

The Bellini Card - Jason Goodwin

I am a big fan of Jason Goodwin's. This is his third novel featuring Yashim the Eunuch. See my reviews of the others below. In this novel he goes to Venice. The main thrust of the story centres around his friend the Polish Ambassador, Palewski. The old emperor has died and Yashim is engaged to find a missing painting. Again we have delicious cooking to make our mouths water, wonderful travel descriptions, and hilarious episodes as we watch Palewski enmesh himself in more and more trouble in Venice. A charming and enjoyable read!

It would be great if ther were some maps inside the covers, then we can plot the journeys and murders!!

Mr Pip - Lloyd Jones

This is a great reading group book. I am amazed that I knew nothing of this war that took place in 1991 in Bougainville. This book made me look it up.

Here we have book is a true indictment of war and the inhumanity that comes from it. It is almost a book within a book as we follow Mathilda and her school being taught by the only white person left on the Island. They are taught unconventionally and rather surreally through Great Expectation by Dickens. I think it certainly helps if you have read that book as it makes much more sense of what is happening.

A recurring theme in this book is about prejudice, and this is expertly handled by Lloyd as the novel progresses.

It is also a novel about empowerment. When the mothers come to class to give their lectures on, gutting fish, the colour blue or mat weaving you can see the strength of story telling and a shared experience. Mr Watts through his telling of Great Expectations empowers them all, including himself and inspires Matilda to academic heights and ultimately knowledge of who she truly is. A very simple but powerful little book.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Victoria Vanishes - Christopher Fowler

I read this in a couple of days, I always know I will have a good read with one of Christopher's books.. This is the 6th outing for elderly detectives Bryant and May.These are such interesting books, quirky , clever, off the wall and fascinating. I love the humour that pops up and bites you, there were several real laugh out loud moments, many other wry smiles. This humour is black, wicked and thoroughly engaging.

Above all for anyone who has lived or worked in London they are a total education. I lived and worked in London for 8 years and I have learnt things I absolutely never knew about the city. After this book I wonder how many organised pub crawls there will be around London!

I love the idea that crimes can be solved by lateral thinking, by arcane knowledge, by instinct, rather than by the book, the host of characters Christopher produces are wonderful, even down to Crippen the cat! Oh and as for our lamented, departed pathologist's ashes! You will just have to read it, even better start at the first and read the lot!

The book ends on an enigmatic note, I can't say more without spoilers, is this the last book? Please no!!!!!!

Christopher Fowler has his own BLOG on

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Fabric of Sin - Phil Rickman

I am a big fan of Phil Rickman, having read all his novels including those written as Will Kingdom! I do like a scare but also an intelligent one. These Merrily Watkins novels just get better. They are very hard to place genre wise. They are not horror, but spooky, they are crime but our heroine rarely solves them herself!
The Rev Merrily Watkins is a female vicar and the Diocesan Exorcist, sorry Deliverance Consultant, she has a teenage daughter who is a pagan, and a former rockstar as a lover. Through the books the personal story of Merrily has progressed from the traumatised widow to where she is today. The conspiracy theories are all clever and believable, even in this plot that includes Masons, Knights Templar and the Duchy of Cornwall. Phil has the capacity to encapsulate isolated village living and then crank up the tension until you have a book that you cannot put down. I am also pleased that the supernatural element has been included as it adds that extra spice!

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal - Sean Dixon

An extraordinary book. This is quirky Canadian writing at its best. If this is not nominated for an award, I will be very suprised.
Take a strange group of "women", join them up to the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Woman's Book Club, a book club that like to, really live, the books they read, throw in The Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bhagdad Blogger, death, sexuality and group politics and you get the idea.
Wonderful, challenging and engaging! I will be buying copies for our Book Groups!

Wuthering heights - Emily Bronte

This really is worth reading again. Nearly all our reading group had read it but at some time in the distant past. Many like myself had read it as a teenager, and to be honest I must have just read what I wanted, romance, Gothic and missed the rest!
If you have only seen one of the films, again read the book!
This book is incredibly fantastic literature, once I picked it up I could not put it down. All the characters were monsters and seriously flawed but her writing made you go on reading, analysing, open mouthed, jaw dropped.
I must have skimmed over the child and animal abuse on a previous reading, it is just dropped so inconsequentially into the plot, that now, as a mature person I say, hang on - what??!! This is a classic nature v nurture book, forget Kevin look at Heathcliff or Hareton!! And as for Cathy was she barking or what?
The real hero of this book is the setting, the Yorkshire Moors, I think it is very telling that nearly all our book club have been to Haworth, home of the Bronte's ...............

Friday, 18 July 2008

The Lady Elizabeth - Alison Weir

I really enjoyed Innocent Traitor, see below, but did wonder when I picked this up whether there really was room for another book on Queen Elizabeth. However, Alsison Weir is a distinguished historian so I gava it a go. I pleased I did, I really found myself totally emersed in the Tudor period due to the skill of the writing, the rich historical descriptions just take you there, it is a fabulous way to understand the live and times of that era. The characterisations rang true as well, I particularly like the time when Elizabeth was very young, and even though the story is well known it had enough suspense to keep me reading to find out what happened next. I would highly recommend this book, and await the next with enthusiasm.

I only have a small observation, Alison states at the back that is a work of fiction and she has taken liberties, I do wonder though whether this will be ignored and how soon Elizabeth 1st will cease to be the Virgin Queen! At least this was more realistic in that there were consequences and it did explain her aversion to marriage!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

The Forgotten Garden - Kate Morton

This is superb. Kate has really moved up a notch since The House at Riverton which won the Richard and Judy Summer Read last year.
Once again we have a time slip novel, 1900's, 1970's and 2005. The novel moves, on the whole, between Brisbane and Cornwall. The settings in 1900 -1913 are deliciously Gothic, well fleshed and convincing. The fact that we follow Nell through all time periods, makes an interesting link. Her writing has acquired a depth, as I really felt I came to know the major players in this novel and even the minor characters were drawn in such a way as to be very real. Also,the resolution of the mystery was not so far fetched as to be unconvincing.
The time changes and characters are all handled deftly, and the mystery keeps you reading to the last pages to find out what happened.
I read the first half of this book very quickly but then found myself slowing down, always a good sign, as I did not want to finish it . Yes, and at the end I cried!

This is quite a large book running to 645 pages, it would make a brilliant and engrossing read for a holiday. I also think that many of the themes running through it would make it an excellent reading group book and I will be buying extra copies here in Bournemouth for that purpose!

See also interview below with Kate Morton!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

No Time for Goodbye - Linwood Barclay

This makes a great holiday read. Suspend believe and just go with it. I guarantee that you will want to keep reading and find out what happened. A great fast paced thriller that requires no investment from you, easy to read and be entertained.

It really is very difficult to review this without spoilers. The only thing I would say is that with the propensity for all characters to wield a gun, I sincerely hope the UK does not go the same way as the US!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

East of the Sun _ Julia Gregson

Well Richard and Judy are running to form. This is the second book I have read from this summer's list and again it is great. This is an ideal escapist summer read. It does not have the depth of The Outcast ( see below) but it is a good romantic read. Set in India in the late 1920's it captures the fading of the Raj and the plight of the Indians, and their generosity,to those that ruled them at the time. We have three very different young women who travel to India, one to marry, one to find a husband and the third to explore the demons that have haunted her since childhood. Do stick with it as after halfway I found it very hard to put down. Having travelled in India myself she captures the atmosphere and the life changing ability of this amazing country brilliantly!

Monday, 30 June 2008

The Return - Victoria Hislop

I absolutely loved The Island and have looked forward to reading this book since its publishing was announced. Having had a family home in Spain both under Franco and since, and adoring flamenco,( if you can get to see Joaquin Cortes do) I was convinced I was going to love this book too. And I did up until about half way. When flamenco was involved there was passion but otherwise it just lacked something. I think that once we got into the civil war it read more like a history book. We did not learn any more about the characters, their motivation and feelings other than what we were told,it became a passive experience, in fact I just did not become invested in them as charcters. Yes I wanted to know what happened and it is a non demanding light read, but it lacks the depth of The Island. I also thought that the Ramirez family pushed credibility, one son a socialist teacher, one a fascist bull fighter, one a homosexual flamenco guitarist and the daughter an outstanding flamenco dancer hmm........

The Lying Tongue - Andrew Wilson

This book is a cross between Sleuth and The talented Mr Ripley. It was only half way through that intrigued I read the inside cover and realised that Andrew Wilson is a biographer of Patricia Highsmith. As such I assume that this is a "homage" to her. I enjoyed it, indeed read it non- stop Saturday to Sunday. The ending of the book is absolutely great and it is very difficult to review this book without spoilers. Best to say, think present day Venice, a crumbling Palace, a mysterious hermit like novelist, an amoral young man, oh, and murder, and you get the picture. It clearly is not in the same league as Highsmith but it is close. There in though lies the question is there value in imitating anothers work? It would make a good reading group read if say one of the Ripleys were read with this. I await to see what Andrew writes next with interest.

Monday, 23 June 2008

The Outcast - Sadie Jones

This book is stunning. It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel, the calibre of writing and plotting is so mature. She captures the claustrophobic, smug world of 1950's middle England so well. The issues that she deals with, self - harming, wife beating, child abuse are downplayed in a subtle manner, they are heart breaking but never sensationalised. It is a telling reminder that we never know what happens behind closed doors, but thank goodness these issues are out in the open today. This will make a fantastic reading group book, there is just so much to talk about. If you have the feeling from the review that this is a dark book, far be it, there is a strong message of hope and resilience, and that young people far from being victims can show us the way forward. Her characterisation particularly of Lewis is deft and carries depth, you really feel you get to know him, and above all can identify with him. Even when he spirals out of control , you never lose that empathy with him, this is the skill of an excellent writer.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Dead Man in Tangier - Michael Pearce

I enjoyed Michael's Mamur Zapt series but the books I have read of this series have left me cold. I really cannot find much about Seymour to like or dislike his character is so thinly drawn. It is the same for all the characters in this book. Frankly I was bored, it did not even have the advantage of having a travelogue aspect, there was no exploitation of the setting to help, and as for the whodunnit aspect, I just didn't care.

This book would have no interest for a reading group, in my opinion.

Monday, 16 June 2008

The Snake Stone - Jason Goodwin

The second book in this excellent series. It is a sort of Donna Leon set in Istanbul in 1838.

I love the sense of humour in these books, there are genuine laugh out load moments amid the murder and many wry smiles. You will also find your mouth watering, for, as well as being a eunuch, Yashim is also an excellent cook. I now want to make pilaf like him!

Having been to Istanbul, like Leon before him, Jason Goodwin also expertly weaves the sites of the city into the plots, his writing is so good that one can nearly smell as well as taste and hear the atmosphere of this great historic city.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

White Nights - Ann Cleeves

This is the second book in the Shetland Quartet, and comes after Ann won the prestigious Dagger for the first novel in the series Raven Black, and it does not disappoint. I read a lot of crime and this is a glorious, who dunnit and I just did not see it coming. This is Agatha Christie set in modern times! The setting in Shetland is fantastic, very unusual and atmospheric. I enjoy the slow, careful plotting, with the suspense building and then the surprise! I cannot give too much away without spoilers. I am really enjoying her characterisation of the deyective Jimmy Perez.
We were very lucky last year to have an author event with Ann at Boscombe Library, she does a marvellous 'murder' evening - highly recommended, if one is coming to a library near you, do not miss it!

Monday, 9 June 2008

The Road Home - Rose Tremain

I took this book out on friday and was unable to put it down! I finally finished it last night at 11.30. I can well understand why this won the Orange Prize. It is utterly captivating. This book works on so many levels. It will make an excellent book group book. Her charaterisation is so finely drawn that you become completely invested in each one. It has supense and keeps you reading as you want to find out what happens next. The subtle commentary that takes place about the way we live in this country is excellently done, it is achieved with a deft, light touch but no less powerful for that. The scenes set in Lev's own country have both humour and pathos. I can't recommend this book enough! It will be coming to one of our reading groups very soon!

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Antony & Cleopatra - Colleen McCullough

I need to nail my colours here, I am a huge fan of Cleopatra, and have a rather rosy and romantic image of her. To me the ideal potrait was in Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George. I do not really approve of the demonising that is currentlyoccuring around this most inspirational female figure from history. That said, it is always difficult to write about such famous characters in history especially when you know the ending.........howver, I thought this book was brilliant! For me it was more about Octavian and one really felt one got inside his head, for anyone who has read Robert Graves or seen the excellent BBC series we can really see where Octavian is going to go, how his character may have been formed. I loved her portrayal of Antony too, it really rang true. I cannot find Livia a sympathetic character as portrayed by Colleen but then so much prejudice has gone before ( a bit like me and Cleopatra!) that maybe it is good to see another side to her character. If like me you love historical fiction and Rome and Egypt in particular this book is for you.

Monday, 2 June 2008

Daughters of the Doge - Edward Charles

This is a sequel to In the shadow of Lady Jane ( see below). In this book Richard truly comes of age. He ends up maturing, getting married and finally deciding on his career. All this takes place through a journey across Europe to Venice and all that befalls him there. I have read many books on Venice, one of my passions, see below, and it is rare that I learn anything new but in this novel I did. It was absolutely fascinating, from the art of painting to the treatment of the Daughters of the Doge, I was not disappointed and thoroughly engrossed.

I can say that as Richard matures, so does his character and I really thought this was a real skill of Edward's to take us along with this rather prigish young man into early adulthood at such a fascinating time in history. I sincerely hope that this is going to turn into a series................

The Janissary tree by Jason Goodwin

This is a great book and would make an excellent choice for reading groups. Here we are in Istanbul following our "detective" in 1836. He is however, a detective with a difference - he is a eunuch!
Perhaps because of his condition, I found this and life in the palace absolutely fascinating. The murders were unusual and innovative. Jason is a historian, and I found the accounts of the Ottoman empire detailed and fascinating. I also found myself researching certain medical conditions............

This would make a good book to read with the Sultans Seal, (see below) similar time in history but completly different in style.

I have ordered the second title in the series so look for a review soon.

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins

I read this recently and can say it really was spooky. I had forgotten how good it can be reading the classics. This is a small book, and will not take long to read. It is a classic gothic tale , read it late at night and it will be guranteed to have you shivering. is the Countess a wicked fortune seeker or is an she innocent pawn, how far can we endorse the supernatural elements. How does the setting of Venice contribute to the sense of suspense? I think this would make a good book club choice especially if perhaps contrasted to a modern gothic novel, and I supspect that it will not be found wanting.........

Monday, 19 May 2008

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

This was the choosen book for Westbourne Library's Book Group 3 last month. I really had forgotten how good the real classics were. I must say this is not my favourite of Austen's novels. I found Fanny Price very insipid and too worthy to be appealing. The same could be said of Edmund who really is a bit of a prig, so I suppose you could say that they are well suited.
I found the end somewhat rushed, all the loose ends were tied up rather quickly, everyone got their just desserts and it was all very neat but not very satisfying.
The great skill and joy in the novel was in Austen's social commentary. The joy of a reading group is that everyone had a favourite section that reflected this and we were able to tease out just what Austen was trying to say and show her subtle way of reflecting the injustices of society of that day through her characters. I scarcely need say that this is an excellent novel for a reading group to tackle, particularly when it is a mixed group of ages and the sexes!
We also had an interesting discussion on the small screen versions of this novel and all deplored the recent outing on ITV, if anyone was miscast it was Billie Piper, who I admire as an actress, and who on earth let it be filmed with those eyebrows! They were so out of place that it was totally distracting!

In the Shadow of Lady Jane - Edward Charles

This was a strange experience of Deja Vu, having recently read the Alison Weir book, Innocent Traitor, see review below. This is a more male centric novel as our protagonist is male, and very young. I found this rather endearing as we followed his confusion and innocence at court. I also enjoyed it as it fleshed out more of the story and characters and they did not jar with Alison's novel but complemented it. As a critic I would have said that Alison Weir's novel is more literary, weighty and historical but Edward's is more fun. I think it might be interesting for reading groups to read the two together and compare them!

I already have ready to read the second outing of Richard Stocker our protagonist , in The Doges Daughters, so watch this space. I think this series may have promise.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Iris and Ruby - Rosie Thomas

I really enjoyed this book. It really is almost two stories interwoven together. One is the burgeoning relationship between grandmother and granddaughter, the other slips back in time to Iris' experiences in the Second World War in Cairo.
Set in Cairo this book deftly sets the scene, we visit all the major sites and there is plenty of local colour too. Ruby has run away from home and landed in Iris' doorstep. As the plot unfolds we learn more about their characters and their reasons for being who they are.
Rosie Thomas' skill is in her characterisation, her subtle and gentle way of leading us through so that if we are not careful we miss how the characters change through their interaction as time moves on. As this is a great cross generational book I would have thought that there would be enough here for a book club to discuss.

Friday, 9 May 2008

The King of Ithaca - Glyn Iliffe

This is the first of a new series published by Pan Macmillan . I was lucky to receive a proof copy. Thanks Ellen.

Very much in the Manfredi/Iggulden genre, this is a reworking of the story of Odysseus, this book covers his winning of Penelope, something that I was not familiar with. I found it utterly fascinating, the historic detail was excellent. This was an easy and enjoyable read, and I am looking forward to the next instalments to see how he handles the more famous parts of the story.

As a personal read I can absolutely recommend it, I am not sure there would be much to discuss for a reading group.

This book is published in June.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

The Sultan's Seal - Jenny White

This is a great book and I am buying copies for our reading groups. It is a murder mystery based in Istanbul in 1886. It comes with reading group questions at the back as well.

I read this virtually in one sitting, reading late into the night. I just had to find out how it was resolved. It is very clever because it is fairly obvious on the whole what is going on to us the reader. To the protagonists it is not and the mistakes they make have you constantly reading with a wry smile on your face. The history of the time is interesting and handled I thought sensitively, Istanbul is of course exotic and oriental. There is much here that can be discussed........

I am Legend - Richard matheson

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is about vampires but do not let this put you off. It is all set in a very plausible way - forget bodice ripping and Romanian accents! I think it would make an excellent reading group book as it has some very interesting themes. It is a cult classic written in 1954 and set in the then way in the future 1976.
It has been made into 2 films The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and the more recent excellent Will Smith version.
In my view this deservedly rates cult status, the sense of desolation, isolation and at times desperation remain with you after the novel has finished. The scenes with the dog are just heart rending - there may be tears.........
Finally why not read the book and then rent the movie, available both from a library near you!

Innocent Traitor - Alison Weir

I thought this was a fantastic novel. It is totally absorbing and although I already knew the history and the outcome, the fact that you became totally immersed in the characters and the period meant that you were still reading on the edge of your seat until the last chapter. The scenes in the tower were heart rending. Alison Weir is a historian and has written non-fiction books about this period and this really shows in the quality of the detail and in her writing. I cannot wait to read her next fiction novel on the young Elizabeth.

Having read Philppa Gregory with reading groups , I think this too would make a good reading group read.

Monday, 7 April 2008

The Girl of his Dreams - Donna Leon

I am a huge fan of Donna Leon. This book again does not disappoint. Over the years her books have become darker and I think they are better for it. I find it a fascinating incite into Italian society with the thorny and often contentious issues that she tackles.
In this novel she looks at the position of the Rom. It makes very uncomfortable reading, but the varying reactions of all the protagonists make it a very honest and "real" plot. I certainly found it believable and very sad.

Luckily we still have the travalogue aspects and the food and wine. I positively salivated at the meal Paola produced, fusilli with spinach and mozzarella followed by calamari.......yum!

Donna has an excellent website, with an indepth plot summary so I will not repeat it here, but it is a must for all those Venetianophiles like me!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Where Three Roads Meet - Sally Vickers

I am a big fan of Sally Vickers and this book is no exception. Clever, erudite and deep as you would expect from this former psychoanalyst. This is the story of the end of the life of Freud and his conversations with Teiresias and their exploration of the Oedipus 'myth' that so influenced Freud's own analytical thinking.
This is a small book, 200 pages at most but take your time and enjoy!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Glassblower of Murano - Marina Fiorato

This is a fabulous book. A true romantic, historical novel. This is THE book to take away with you on holiday, or for an indulgent read. It has a dual time story and all the atmosphere of wonderful Venice. Having been to Venice and to Murano, it was fascinating to be given an insight into this ancient craft.
The characters are well drawn, and there is plenty of pace to keep you wanting to read more. I finished this in just 3 days! Oh and I cried , old romantic that I am!
This book comes out in May. Thank you to Beautiful Books for allowing me to read this excellent book in advance. No wonder it has been a best seller in Europe!