Friday, 31 December 2010

Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan - The Strain

I picked this up in the library and thought 'Oh, good , this looks similar to The Passage'.
I was wrong. Premise very similar. Plane arrives at US airport everyone dead inside, vampire virus gets loose. Whilst I absolutely support the move towards claiming vampires back to horror from romance, this was horror without substance. I notice that one of the authors is a film director and that may explain it, this read as though it was a film script. There was no descriptive text, no characterisation beyond the barest minimum - what did the characters look like, the buildings, New York? It also was very American, full of acronyms, CDC, FAA, SUV, et al, very irritating.
I notice it is part of a trilogy but I have to say vampire lover that I am I will not be reading on. I might watch the film though.........

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Jo Graham - Hand of Isis

This looked a great book, as you know I enjoy historical books and love Egypt. I was a bit sceptical when I saw it was about Cleopatra thinking what more was there to be said ? However, this is good, it really is about Charmian, her half sister and handmaiden and it is this slant that makes it interesting. I really enjoyed the first two thirds of the book, about their early life and loves, and I have to say it was less interesting when Caesar came onto the scene, as that part is so well known. The love triangle between Charmian, Dion and Emrys was sexy and kept up the tension. It also explained the ending, which I thought was novel and a good twist.

This book has reading group notes and I think it would make a good reading group choice.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Justin Cronin - The Passage

Ok this is my favourite book this year. It is not subtle but it is well written and I was totally immersed into it. Do you remember a book you have read and someone interrupted you and it was like suddenly waking up to a new world, this is that sort of book.
This is fantasy, it is big, 785 pages, it is the beginning of a trilogy, but it is amazing.

Think Mad Max meets I am legend and you get a feel for it. If it sounds derivative then I am not really explaining it well. I think the plus is that Justin makes you feel you are really there, you can see the pictures in your mind as you read.

This book starts slightly in the future, a virus is discovered in South America that can cure cancer, but it leaves the patient 'better' than when they started. Enter the military, once they have finished , the world succumbs to the spread of 'the virals'. We then jump 90 years and journey with small pockets of still human survivors. Into this appears a mysterious young woman, with interesting powers and connection to the virals, her name is Amy.........

I cannot wait for the next installment, please write and publish it soon!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Susan Hill - The Small Hand

I love a ghost story and am a big fan of Susan Hill as you will see from my reviews below. This is another good one, suitably creepy, and with a great deal of supense. My only quibble would be that I thought the end a little contrived, I really wanted to know the motivation for the incident, or perhaps some explanation as to why the person acted that way. I cannot say more without spoiling the ending.

If anyone has any ideas do let me know!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Roma Tearne - The Swimmer

This is a wonderful book. Lyrical writing and a thought provoking plot. It would make a superb reading group choice and very sensibly has reading group notes included in the back .

It is based in a long hot summer in Suffolk, you can almost feel the heat coming off the pages. Ria a poet in her forties ( I refuse to call her middle aged!) meets a young Sri Lankan refugee and this sets in motion hatred and tragedy. However ultimately this is a novel of hope, and will invoke deep discussions.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Louise Penny - Bury Your Dead

Another great book from Louise. Wonderful scenes in Quebec in winter, if you think we have had it bad with the snow recently read this!
It is a subdued Gamache recovering from his injuries and inveigled into solving a murder in a library.
At the same time Beauvoir, also on leave and recovering, opens an old case that takes him back to Three Pines and all our familiar characters.
A moving, clever multilayered plot, it will have you reading late into the night to ease the suspense of what happened as it moves to the dramatic conclusion.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Eva Hornung - Dog Boy

This is the most amazing book. It would make the most fantastic reading group book. It is set in modern day Moscow. Society is breaking down. One day a young boys mother disappears. Her lover comes and strips the flat and abandons him. He is forced to leave the flat from hunger, he follows a dog who accepts him and introduces him to her pack, bringing him up as a puppy. This is not a book for the faint hearted the life of a dog is cruel and hard, the life of survivors on the streets of Moscow even harder. I cannot say much without giving too much away, but this is a powerful 'must read' boko that will stay with you for a very long time.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Elizabeth Peters - A River in the Sky

Here we have another old favourite. This once again is a backfill novel set in 1910 in Palestine. Amelia is at her best, Emerson is rugged and Ramses is shaping up to be quite a hero on his own account. We know what to expect, it does what it says on the tin, you will not be disappointed!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Lucretia Grindle - The Faces of Angels

I so enjoyed Villa Triste ( see below) that I looked up on the library catalogue to see what else she has written. This was her first novel. It really is very good and I have purchased copies for our reading groups for this title as well. It is a mystery thriller set in Florence, I cannot say very much without spoiling the plot. Suffice to say a newly married woman is attacked by a serial killer in the Boboli Gardens and as a result she is permanently scarred both physically and emotionally, her husband is murdered. The evident murderer is apprehended. A few years later she returns to Florence from America to visit her lover and discovers that there is a copycat on the loose and she may well be a target as she begins investigations of her own and women she knows begin to go missing......... excellent!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Christobel Kent - A Fine and Private Place

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the series and awaited this with eager anticipation. Perhaps it did not compare to the Booker list but I found it quite hard to get into. It did not seem to have such a strong sense of place as A Time of Mourning. However,it was a sort of 'country house style whodunnit' and as such the location worked. I like the character of Cellini, our detective and the unfolding of his home life. Where Christobel scores is in her characterisation, one really connects with her characters. This was quite difficult here as the secondary characters were rather thinly drawn but as most of them were murder suspects I could see why! I liked the plotting and the unfolding of the mystery, and as usual I did not guess the murderer. I look forward to the next in the series.

Man Booker

Well I got that spectacularly wrong! But at least I did like the winning novel, this is a first and probably a testament to how good the book is..........

Monday, 11 October 2010

Man Booker

So the results are out tomorrow. So who do I think will win? Well I would like either In a Strange Room or Room to win. I also wouldn't mind if Parrott and Olivier did too. However, knowing the Man Booker from the past I am sure the one I did not like (ssh C) will probably win!!

Emma Donoghue - Room

I left this book to last as I thought the subject matter might lead to sleepless nights. This is not the sort of book I would normally read. I like my fictional entertainment to be a fantasy or entertainment, anything too much like the horror of real life puts me off.
This book is narrated by young Jack who is just 5. His world is a locked room 11ft x 11ft. he was born into it. His Ma has been there 7 years. He sleeps in the wardrobe, and his mother has a visitor at night. At first I was rather irritated by the five year old's speak but as the book progressed I soon got used to it. The book moves on at a pace and it is very difficult to say much without giving huge spoilers as to the plot. It confounded my expectations. This is a book of hope, a book of coping in extreme circumstances, of the sacrifices that are made by mothers. It is also a book that deserves to win!

Howard Jacobson - The Finkler Question

This book is cleverly disguised as the Jewish question, and is really a very intense bit of navel gazing. The story is loosely based around one Julian Treslove. His best friend from school has been the Jewish Sam (Samuel) Finkler, and both their mentors and lifelong friend is the Jewish Libor Seveik. Both Finkler and Libor are recently widowed. Treslove has never married. Treslove looking at his successful friend Finkler and the successful marriage of his friend Libor, ponders whether this is inherently due to Jewishness. He then begins a relationship with Libor's niece and begins the process of attempting to become Jewish himself.
This book has some very funny moments, some sad ones and a great deal of reflection. For instance if you are Jewish but support Palestine does that make you anti-semetic? The scene in the Groucho club between the ASHamed Jews and the music industry followers of Kabbalah was hysterical.
I enjoyed it but I am not sure that it sadly will have a wide appeal. Of course it will probably win now!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Tom McCarthy- C. Man Booker Shortlist 2010

Oh, I struggled with this one. If I had not been reading it for the Man Booker book group Iwould have abandoned it. I did not understand it. I was unable to fathom a plot and not see the point? What have I missed? A strange young man, Serge Carrefax is born into an even stranger family at the turn of the last century. ( Is he autistic?) His sister perhaps commits suicide. He grows up odd, there is a very strange sojourne in a German spa town as a teenager, he then goes to war in WW1 as an observer in the Air squadron. He is shot down, due to his own idiocy and drug addiction. He becomes a prisoner of war in Germany. He survives, gets sent to Egypt as a spy and dies. In between it is all very odd. Is it meant to be a comedy, the seance was hilarious, is it meant to be satirical? I have no idea! Confounded, Confused and Convoluted!

Damon Galgut - In A Strange Room - Man Booker Shortlist

What a strong list they are this year. This is a small book some 180 pages but my goodness it packs a powerful punch.
The author experiments with punctuation in this novel and we have no speech marks. This normally irritates me. However, here is only serves to increase the dream like quality of the writing. This book is made up of three journeys. The first two are written in the third person, and we get this kind of detached , dreamy voyeurism, that is a little creepy but very compelling. Then in the third section we move from Africa to India and are brought shockingly into the first person and our emotions are put on an emotional ride that is disturbing and effective. This book stayed with me a long time after I read it. I am at a loss as to how to describe the effect it has or how it is achieved, it is not poetic but it compels and binds in the same way.
So far this is the one I think should win - extraordinary.

Peter Cary - Parrot and Olivier In America. Man Booker Shorlist

Well I didn't think I was going to enjoy this one, as it sounded odd from the jacket . It is odd but I really enjoyed it. The characters are completely off the wall and at the beginning I was completely at a loss. The alternating chapters by Olivier and Parrot worked very well as a device and I frequently found myself laughing out loud.
This book is set after the French Revolution. Olivier is a sickly French Aristocrat and his servant is Parrot an English oddball. To escape a potential further round of Aristocratic culling in France Olivier's mother gets him commissioned to write a report on American prisons. It becomes clear that nothing has equipped Olivier for democracy or America and it is left for Parrot to pick up the pieces.
A very funny book and very perceptive. It is Olivier that predicts in his aristocratic way the future of America as he leaves to return in despair to the disappearing Ancien Regime. Whereas Parrot is the success in settling and making a life in America. This is a book that relates to us on many different levels and again will make an excellent book group read.

Andrea Levy - The Long Song - Man Booker Shortlist

This a wonderful lyrical book despite the seriousness of the content. A truly uplifting and empowering journey. It is set in Jamaica in the Nineteenth Century. July is a slave girl on a sugar plantation. This is a time of the last turbulent years as slavery is coming to the end, and 'freedom' begins. In this book we follow her life as she writes it down for her publisher son.
This sounds serious stuff but it is a very funny book, because Andrea brings to life her characters with such vibrancy and spirit that we laugh along as they mimic and comment on their so called masters. We marvel at how strong physically and mentally a woman such as July could be despite such disadvantages.
It is, of course, also sad, as the life of the slave is portrayed in all it's brutality, and we watch as freedom is hard won and still inequitable. I liked the link with the UK and the thought that, can we really know our own DNA and who we are descended from? Can any white English person be free from the legacy of slavery?

I found this book especially interesting to read so soon after The Help and feel they would be valuable to read on consecutive reading group meetings, there would be so much to talk about....

Rose Tremain - Trespass

Having read nearly all of Rose's book I was fairly confident this would make the shortlist. Wrong! However, it is great, it is about the effect of trespass on peoples lives at various levels. The young child from Paris who attempts to settle in to a new school. The selfish brother who invades the cosy world of his sister and her lover in France. His trespass onto land that does not belong to him. The elderly french woman who may or may not have built her bungalow on her brothers land. An invasion of privacy and revealing of long dead secrets unfold, a murder is committed, and then solved. Revenge is fulfilled. As you follow the lives of these intertwined residents of the Cevennes in France , you cannot fail but be entranced by her beautiful writing and sense of presentment.
This would make a superb reading group read.

The MAN BOOKER Prize 2010

As part of the Read South West Reading group we are reading the short list and exchanging views on the excellent Cyprus Well website, which promotes literature for everyone in the South West. Find it here I have also included a link at the side of my BLOG.

In preparation I had a look at the longlist and made a few educated guesses. As a result the only one I read from the long list that was not in the short list is the following. I have found it a very strong list this year and will add further reviews from the longlist when I have time!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Salley Vickers - Dancing backwards

I read this on a long train journey yesterday , it is wonderful. I really feel that this is up to the form of Miss Garnet's Angel. I was really bereft when is finished.
Here we have an newly widowed woman, booked on a cruise to New York. In New York she is to meet a former friend who she has had no contact with since she was married. Her children are grown up, her home empty.She is full of regrets about situations in her life, people she let go of, people she feels she has failed, potential opportunities missed. She gained a first at Cambridge and was a published poet before she married and had two children.
As the journey unfolds, so does she, and as she interacts with a variety of characters on board, she heals, to the point that she begins to write again. We learn about her past, her reason for the estrangement from Edwin who she is destined to meet in New York, we feel her guilt and confusion and come away with a strongly drawn character that we can empathise and identify with, and above all like. All the characters that she interacts with on board are deftly drawn, not quite caricatures, but instantly recognisable.They all have a story to tell, a contribution to make and in turn are affected by their interaction with Vi. I have a feeling that Salley must have done a cruise as a writer as Kimberley Crane, writer in residence is fab!
I wonder if this book can do for cruises what Miss Garnet did for Venice? The descriptions of the ever changing Atlantic Ocean were stunning. All in all a very reflective novel, what struck me is how important every human interaction is, even with strangers, perhaps even especially with strangers. This would make an excellent reading group choice.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Kathryn Stockett - The Help

Once again we were extremely lucky to get copies of this from the publishers for use by our reading groups. This book led to a lively discussion and it is no surprise that this is a bestseller both here and in the US.
We all had to keep reminding ourselves that this book is set in the 1960s and as such it is really shocking. Set in Mississippi USA this is the story of a black maid and the treatment of these 'servants' by the white majority of the town of Jackson. It is truly disturbing. More so I think as it makes South Africa at the time look almost reasonable, at least they openly declared apartheid. According to this book, in a nation that prides itself on being the 'land of the free' there was a strong underclass that clearly were not. It certainly to us Europeans gives us some insight into Martin Luther King and what happened to him.
I have to admit that at first I was rather uncomfortable with the fact that this was written by a white woman with a 'black' voice and was grateful that she had written something about this at the back. It might have been more useful perhaps at the beginning.
I do wonder though, where are the black authors of the US, why are they not writing about this, as does say Andrea Levy in the UK? Do they have a voice or are they just not exported and published in Europe or are they but do not become bestsellers?

A powerful book, one that is excellent for reading groups, the discussion will go on and on.........

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Katherine McMahon - Crimson Rooms

I loved the Rose of Sebastopol, see review below. This book again is fantastic and will make a brilliant reading group read. I have ordered extra copies for Bournemouth Libraries to use for this purpose.

This book deals with the aftermath of WW1. Evelyn, our heroine has trained as one of the first female lawyers and is fighting the prejudice of her family and the establishment . She finds herself caught up in one of the most sensational cases of the day, a case that exposes the inequality of the class system, in law and at war.

At the same time a woman arrives at the house with a child claiming he is the son of her adored brother, who died in the trenches. Added to this is the stifling home live with mother, grandmother and aunts and you have a multilayered, sophisticated and well written novel that is bound to please and challenge.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

John Harwood - The Ghost Writer

This is a fabulously gothic book . A ghost story set in Australia and England. Young Gerard while searching in his mother's room as a child unearths a photograph and a manuscript, a secret that his mother has hidden. It is his quest to unravel this secret that changes his life and sends him searching for his mother's family in England. His great grandmother it is revealed was a talented writer of Victorian ghost stories. These are interspersed throughout the book and add deliciously to the drama. I just loved it and the climax had me sitting on the edge of my seat in trepidation. This was the ghost story I was expecting in The Little Stranger and it does not disappoint! It really was very clever, the mysterious "invisible" penfriend really added to the sense of pending dread as you just knew it was going to end badly. A well written book, hugely atmospheric and I would have thought there was plenty for a reading group to get stuck into!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Michael Byrnes - The Genesis Plague

This is a boys own thriller. Lots of gadgets and strange sounding military equipment. It is fast paced and very easy to read almost simplistic, especially if you like lots of short sentences, many of which begin with 'And'. However as a romp it was a quick ( I read it over 2 days) and the idea was interesting. It was a shame none of the characters were developed beyond stereotypes, the beautiful and glamerous allegedly intelligent(?!) archaeologist was reduced to a screaming, arm holding and general eye candy adjunct to the men...... so not one for the women then!

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Lucretia Grindle - Villa Triste

This book is fantastic. We were lucky to get some proof copies for our reading groups, and they loved it too! Do not be put off by the title or the first chapter this is not a romance, it is a brilliant dual time mystery. In the near present we have a serial killer bumping off partisans from WW2, they are found murdered execution style with a mouthful of salt. Our detective finds an old diary at one of the victims houses and back we go to the second world war in Florence, Italy. I love Italy ( you will have realised that by the number of books I read set there!) and yet had no idea of the hardships and turmoil that occurred during the war. Invaded by their former allies the Nazis, setting Mussolini back up and bringing back the hated(?!) Fascists, the partisans, many of them deserters from the Italian forces fighting both of them and attempting to work with the British Allies who were bombarding and invading from the south. Wow, fascinating, moving and a great puzzle,as we get to solve the present day murders and expose the past, a brilliant book for a book group.

Mario Reading - The Mayan Codex

This is the second book in what is shaping up to be a fabulous trilogy. It does stand alone but you would benefit from reading the first book, The Nostradamus Prophecies first. See review below. In this book we are taken to Adam's home in the US, and then on to South America and Mexico.
I love intelligent thrillers and this certainly is one! I also like to really learn something new and again this does not disappoint. In this book our flawed and realistic hero Adam joins forces with the now retired French policeman Calque ( a brilliant portrait of a gritty, mature detective) in a chase across the American continent to retrieve the Mayan Codex as predicted in the "lost" prophecies of Nostradamus. They are being chased as usual by members of the treacherous De Bale family, all intent on revenge for the death of their brother, and in this book we learn more about their history and intentions.
I learnt so much about the Mayans, and the wonderful set pieces would make this a fabulous film. I loved the scene in the bar in the US between the Hells Angels and the De Bales and the ending is as good a cliff hangar as I have read in a long time. I cannot say much as this would create spoilers.
Suffice to say it is a fast paced rip roaring ride and I cannot wait for the next installment!

Friday, 30 July 2010

Christopher Fowler - Byant & May Off the rails

I have just finished this, another fabulous offering. This series really is special, especially if you have ever lived or worked or even holidayed in London. A great deal of this book is set within the London Tube network, a creepy place without even trying I have always thought. Ripe for horror and of course, murder! Kepp writing Christopher I cannot wait for the next one, and these covers are sooo much better that the US ones!

Monday, 5 July 2010

Natasha Mostert - Season of the Witch

This is a fascinating gothic thriller that draws you in from the very first page. Our hero Gabriel can read and enter minds and this gives him a very successful edge as a computer hacker. Prior to this he worked for a secret intelligence agency and used his skills for good until one harrowing 'job' went very wrong. He is suddenly contacted by an old friend from the agency to track her missing stepson, and this brings him into contact with the disturbing and sensually exciting Monk sisters but it soon becomes clear that one of them is a possible killer but which one?
This would make an excellent reading group read .....

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Carlos Ruiz Zafon - The Angel's Game

This is his second book after the phenomenal success of Shadow of the Wind, see review below.

To be honest I feel that this book is a shadow of "Shadow" , it is also set in Barcelona and very cleverly brings in and thus fills us in on some of the characters from the previous book. It is in effect a prequel.
It is beautifully written, very gothic, even surreal but for me just does not hit the right note. The first half of the novel was just fabulous but when he moved the story on and attempted to explain what was happening I did not feel it worked. I can get that I am perhaps not supposed to "get" the premise of the book, if the Boss an angel , the devil, etc but the ending where things were resolved, sort of , just left me flat............ and I had no idea what the message of the book was, if indeed there was one.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Janet Skeslien Charles - Moonlight in Odessa

I have just heard this has won the Melissa Nathan prize and it well deserves it. I read it a couple of weeks ago but have not had time to review it.

It is great a real feel good read and really compelling, I read it solidly over a few days and could not put it down. It would make a great holiday read. Another book I read late into the night and at the end had a tear...

It is the clever and humorous story of the highly intelligent Daria from Odessa, (and what a wonderful sales pitch for the place this book is! ) who becomes involved in the mail order bride business as she will not sleep with her boss. Disillusioned she becomes a bride herself and achieves her ambition to leave Odessa and go to the promised land of the USA, but all is not what it seems. The clever insights on both societies are fabulous and very funny.

This would make a superb book group read, there is so much in it to get talking about, the first being men!!

It is always a sign of a good book when you are left wanting more. I hope there is a sequel as I would like to know what Dara does next......

Social Media Revolution 2 (Refresh)

Friday, 11 June 2010

David Hewson - Blue Demon

This is another great book in the Nic Costa series , this is book number 7. I am a big fan and this book has not failed to impress. Superb plotting, a very interesting case.

The G8 summit is descending on Rome at the same time an official with the security plans is ritually murdered. This method of killing recalls a previous old case, has the killer begun to kill again after such a time, is it a copycat or someone manipulating Rome during the summit?
David writes so well and compellingly that you just have to keep on reading perched metaphorically on the edge of your seat (or even literally) for the next exciting revelation.

I loved the conspiracy theories. The anarchic temperament of the Romans. The elderly lady taking on the "spooks" was fantastic! Once again I am surprised, delighted , challenged and above all entertained.

Can't wait for the next one, how many more deaths in the team?????????

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Lorrie Moore - A Gate at the Stairs

This book was on the Orange shortlist and I do try and read as many as I can before the competition ends. This year the shortlist has been phenomenal and this book is no exception.
It concerns a college student in mid-west America who becomes the part time nanny to a couple to supplement her income. However this is no ordinary couple, they are seeking to adopt and Tassie is included in all the interviews for a child. The couple eventually foster a part African-American child with a view to adoption but all is not what it seems.
This novel is superb at getting into the minutiae of Midwest life. I loved her characterisation of Tassie, the typical student with her "quasi" this and that but atypical in her thinking , observations and life.
We also are given a look into Midwestern life and prejudices. How does a country with a black president react to a white couple with a black baby. The horrible apocryphal story of the adopted black 13 year old child with white parents being shot by police in his own home when the burglar alarm goes off sets the tone.
However, this is also a wryly amusing book mainly because we see it all through Tassie's eyes, we see her grow up , become wiser, and we realise that she is worth more than most of the other 'adult' characters put together.
I cannot give too much away as I might spoil it. It is a magnificent book and would make a superb reading group choice.

Orange prize

So we now know that Barbara Kingsolver has won the Orange prize with her The Lacuna. Do see my review, I am so glad that in february I spotted that this book should win prizes.
Anyway in Bournemouth Libraries we have bought extra copies for reading groups of this and her previous Poisonwood Bible as it is bound to spark interest! We also have copies on order in Spoken word format and large print when available........

Monday, 7 June 2010

Rosie Alison - The Very Thought of You

For those of you following the Orange Prize , here is another of the shortlist, see my reviews for Wolfhall and The Lacuna below.

This was fantastic It concerns an eight year old evacuee called Anna, who is sent to a large Yorkshire stately home. The owners have turned it into a temporary school.

The elegant Ashton's have problems of their own, Thomas is convined to a wheelchair as a result of adult polio, his wife is desperate to have a child. Imagine then the arrival into their lives of large numbers of children....

This is well written and Rosie really gets us inside the head of her characters. It is an amazing study of how disability impacts on a marriage, and then adding the lack of children and it is pretty intense stuff. Anna is nicely drawn, we see much of the world through her eyes, we watch her grow mature and become irresistable drawn into the events unfolding on the estate.

I also liked the subplot of her mother, suddenly finding freedom in war torn London and finding satisfation through working for the BBC.

So far this is my favourite book on the list......... it would make an excellent book for a reading group.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Ann Cleeves - Blue Lightning

This is the fourth book in Ann's Shetland Quartet. I am really hoping that she will be persuaded to write more as I really want to know how things work out for Detective Jimmy Perez.
This book sees him returning home to Fair Isle with his fiancee only to have a murder take place at the local bird observatory. This occuring during a storm when the island is cut off. Mix in some fairly bizarre twitchers and visitors and you have the classic whodunnit. This book nicely links a biographical detail of Ann, as I see she was bird observatory cook. I am glad she survived because this book is great and a fitting ( possible?) end to the series.

Jenna Burtenshaw - Wintercraft

This is a great book. It is being marketed as a Teen novel but makes a very good crossover novel for those of you that like me that enjoy them . It is fantasy at its most inventive. Forget vampires etc here we have a truly immersible environment. We have a country Albion set in a pseudo medieval age but with trains! I particularly liked the High Council ruled in a Venetian style political arena. Into this mix are born people with special skills, "The Skilled" they have the ablilty to see beyond the veil and some can walk within it. None more so than the family of the Winters who wrote the definative book Wintercraft. We have a powerful heroine in Kate Winters, brought up in ignorance of her family history but forced through circumstance to not only face her past but utlise it in the fight against evil and corruption.
I can see a series coming!

Carlos Ruiz Zafon - Shadow of the WInd

I have just read this for the fourth time and it is still as fresh, engaging and simply mind blowing as the first time.

This book defies classification. Is it a crime novel, gothic horror, historical, political, or just totally unique?!

In the book we follow the growing up of Daniel Sempere, his father owns a book shop and we watch him struggle with post Civil war Spain, with love, with life and a unique mystery. To say too much would just ruin the story, read it and enjoy.

Reading it again you pick up multilayers and clever asides that you had forgottten or missed the last time. Each one is a gem. This is a book to read slowly and savour. It is a modern classic and a must for all Reading Groups!

On a personal note on the basis of reading this book the first time, I went to Barcelona and that doesn't disappoint either.......

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Nick Drake - Tutankhamun

This is the second in the series featuring Rahotep, detective in ancient Egypt. The first book concerned Nefertiti, see below, we now move on to the reign of Tutankhamun.

This novel was fast paced, and despite us knowing the story had some interesting 'takes' on the plot surrounding the death of Tut. It was also nicely interwoven with the solving of the crimes perpetrated by a serial killer, which gave the book some suspense.

This is shaping up to be a great series and a must for anyone interested in the time. I look forward to the next. A great holiday read....

Monday, 12 April 2010

Michele Guittari - A Florentine Death

I am still in Florence mode I took these on holiday with me. Michele is the former head of the Florence police and so these books are very more police procedural and forensic. More Kathy Reichs than Agatha Christie.
This first book introduces us to our detective Michele Ferrara. It concerns a serial killer. It also describes the activities of the mafia! I really enjoyed it. However the language seemed a little stilted and the dialogue did not flow so well. I wondered whether it was because he was not a natural writer or whether is was the translation. I felt he needed to bulk it up a bit to make the most of the location.

I also took with me the second book in the series and I think that may be what the editor worked on. Here we discovered a lot more of the town and landscape and the language improved and flowed better. This was an excellent read and very gripping. It involved a paedophile ring. We also kept up the theme of uncovering the dealings of the Mafia. A thoroughly and absorbing read, a very exciting ending.

This is the third in the series and gets off to a cracking start with a bomb in the centre of Florence. I feel Michele has really got into the genre now of writing not only a gripping crime novel, a police procedural but also a tourist satisfying read with all the restaurants, bars and sights described. Think, a grittier Donna Leon.

I am really looking forward to the next installment. They are good to read in order as the characters progress, change and move on as the series progresses!

Christobel Kent - A Time of Mourning

I am a big fan of Christobel Kent, mainly because she sets her books in Italy! I have just been to Florence so I read this as a teaser before I went.
I have read A Party in San Niccolo,The Summer House, and A Florentine Revenge previously.
In this book Christobel focuses on the policeman from A Florentine Revenge and it looks like this is to be the start of a series. I like it because she clearly knows and loves Florence so we get a real feel for the city. Also her detective Sandro, now a private detective due to the events in the previous novel, is so human with real characteristics and flaws, you really feel that you are inside a real person. A great read, an old fashioned crime novel, little blood and no forensics, just good detection......

Sarah Waters - The Little Stranger

I don't know what it is but I just do not like books that are nominated for awards any more. This book seems to have been nominated for loads of things so I had high hopes. I have also read Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith and loved them.

Sarah writes beautifully, and her characters are well crafted, however it is the subject matter that failed to live up to my expectations. The trouble is this is a haunted house story and all the way through I had this sense of deja vu. ( I have read a very similar book, The Thirteenth Tale and really enjoyed it see below). The focus on the dying of a way of life, as reflected in the metaphor of the neglected and falling apart house was also well done. This is post WW2 Britain and it is this inability of the aristocratic family to change that causes the problems. I can only assume it is from this angle that the book has been nominated.

Although as I said the characters were well drawn, none of them were very likeable and therefor I was not invested in any of them. The haunting frankly was not very scary and I just wanted to slap most of the characters.

However, for this reason I think it would make a good Reading Group book as if I had this reaction I am sure there are equally many people who think it is excellent, so it should make for a great debate.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Dennis Lehane - Shutter Island

I heard of this through the promotion of the film with The reading Agency. It looked very intriging so I thought I would rad the book first.
The book is an amazing psychological thriller. Two US marshall arrive on an island in the 1950's . This island is home to some of the most dangerous and psychotic prisoners in the US. One has escaped. Then a hurricane blows in, cutting the island off and reaping devastation to the complex. In a twisted and and complex plot the reader comes to question everything they have read, assumed and believe to be reality. A stunning book, with a jaw dropping conclusion.
This would make a superb reading group book, there is just so much that can be discussed!!
Here is a link to the film trailer!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Libraries versus Bookshops?

I just couldn't resist this. A little late for Chinese New Year I know...... please don't send any dragons after me, unless they are from Pern and I can ride one.

Browsed for too long and no joy on a decent book? Then remember we have the back stock to end all back stock. I challenge you to not find a good book in your local library. If you still do not like it remember you can bring it back for free and swap it - and come and join a Book Group while you are at it!

Monday, 22 February 2010

Beatrice Colin - The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite

Now this was just fabulous. I cannot recommend it more highly and it would make a fantastic book group read. This was a Richard and Judy title and it only goes to show how strong that brand was and what a hole is left in the book world when that show finished.

This book follows the life of the young woman of the title from being an orphan to becoming a silent screen star. What makes this interesting is that we begin in 1899 and go through two World Wars and this is Germany.

Here like The Book Thief, we have the attempt to reintegrate Germany and it's people of this period into the consciousness of the rest of the world without the necessary stigma of Nazism. We see the weeping defeated Kaiser leaving on his train. Yes, Hitler features, as do the death camps but the novel is filled with real suffering people and we are asked - what would you have done? To save your husband would you have returned from Hollywood to star in a film for Goebbels? And to save her would you have been prepared to pay the ultimate price also?

Throughout this book we have a real insight into one person's love for Berlin and follow the bitter suffering that this love results in. It is about the resilience of the human psyche, how the past always returns, catching up with us, and how love can transcend poverty and deprivation. This is truly a novel on the grand scale, and will remain with you long after you have read it.

Kate Ellis - Playing with Bones

Kate Ellis writes the long running Wesley Peterson detective series based in Devon.
This is the second in a new series with Detective Joe Plantagenet, set in a medieval market town. As such the most is made of the atmosphere of the town. Her we have a serial killer at work repeating unsolved crimes of the 1950's, surely it cannot be the same killer? A copycat? Once again there is the hint of the supernatural and a sense of place and history. They really are well written and I cannot recommend them enough.
I would have thought there was enough in this one to make it an excellent recommendation for a crime book group.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Christopher Fowler - Bryant and May on the Loose

Phew, back to adult books, from one age related book to the other spectrum. Our septo/octogenarian detectives are again on great form. This once again teaches about the wonderful quirky underworld that is London history. It also cunningly reveals modern society and the shifting population and culture of London/British society today. These are great fun and very clever. I am so glad to be back in the land of the adult, surreal it may be but predictable it is not.......

Lauren Kate - Fallen

I seem to be on a cross over bent at the moment. Another book aimed at the Twilight fans, this time we have Angels. Good ones and fallen ones. Once again due to mysterious circustances our heroine finds herself in a form of reform school, but as usual all is not what it seems.
The problem with this book is that it is very American, and written in I presume teenage US speak, and at a low literacy level. It seems to have been written perhaps in a hurry and poorly edited. Perhaps it really is not intended for grown ups.......I can only stand hearing about teenagers "snickering" so many times with out thinking of something brown and log shaped and it wasn't chocolate!

Effective cover though, that is why Ipicked it up!

P.C. and Kistin Cast - Marked

This is the first of The House of Night series, and is a classic cross over novel aimed at the Twilight market. I have to say I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes that genre and is an appropriate age. I found it a little bit too teen for me, but it was intelligent and clever. Good idea though. Teens become marked with a magical tattoo that signals that they may become vampyres, or they may die. As such they have to go to a special school, and so we have all the usual new girl on the block angst etc. It was well wriiten and I did want to finish it. It is part of a so far 7 part series so should keep one occupied for quite a while, I am passing at the moment but might be tempted later..........

Barbara Kingsolver - The Lacuna

I have to confess that I have not read The Poisonwood Bible despite it being a reading group classic. I certainly shall now. This is a beautifully written novel. It is richly textured and multi-layered. I was immersed in the characters, and learnt so much about Mexico, America after WW1, during the Mccarthy era and quite a bit about art, communism, and cooking!

This book follows the life of Harrison Shepherd, born in the US but up rooted to mexico as a boy by his irresponsible(?) fly by night mother, who you just can't help liking. Whilst in Mexico he meets Diegi Rivera and hhis wife Frida Kahlo, becoming their cook, then they offer a haven for Lev trotsky and life becomes dangerous and interesting. He returns to America after the assassination and becomes a famous writer, but is then caught up in the McCarthy witch hunts.

The plot is so complex this does not do it justice. It jumps from scene to scene like a rich tapestry interspersed with the eponymous lacunae of the title. A brilliant novel, should win a prize or several and an excellent reading group choice!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Paul Hoffman - The left hand of God

This is a very interesting book. Ah ha I hear you say that usually means she is not keen on it! Well that is not quite correct I did enjoy it but was a little confused as to whom it was targeted. Clearly this is a cross over book. It is aimed very much at the Trudi Canavan market. However, it has some really witty and sly commentaries going on about teenage boys, - and girls for that matter, and society as a whole. This really appealed to me and shows the range of the author. However it did mean that the novel was a bit of a see-saw between these conflicting areas. there was also a great deal about tactics and weaponary, and a teen romance.... so you can see that this book attempts to be all things to everyone. Does it work? I am not sure.Clearly with the release of the advertising video below it is expected to be big, so time and the public will tell.

This book is set in a fantasy world of the early middle ages type, our hero a 14/15 year old boy escapes from the brutal regime of the Redeemers and explodes on the world as a naive, witty, violent and ignorant young man. I have to say that he is really rather cool ( Am I showing my age here? is anyone cool these days?), a bit of an Edward Cullen for the fantasy world.

I should warn that it is part of a trilogy and like all good fantasy it finishes on a cliff hanger....

Friday, 8 January 2010

Deanna Raybourne - Silent in the Sancuary - Silent on the Moor

I thoroughly enjoyed the first title in this trilogy Silent in the Grave, see below. These are just as good.
In Silent in the Sanctuary we are introduced to the family home of the March's, they are snowed in, particularly relevant with our current weather. What then ensues are ghosts, murder by strangulation, attempted murder through poison , oh, and an jewel robbery. There is of course a limited number of guests from which to choose to solve the crimes and it is great fun. they are advertised as witty and they are. A very amusing romp!

This is the final book in the trilogy. Her we have our intrepid heroine pursuing her love up to Yorkshire to try and resolve their relationship once and for all. There are some very witty nods to Wuthering heights here and I really loved it.
Once again of course, we have attempted murder by poison, murder by drowning, death, madness and romance. A heady blend and thoroughly entertaining!

I also enjoyed the gypsy thread that ran through these books, and very much the highlighting of the plight of women from all classes in society of the time.

Incidentally her next book is about vampires, can't wait!