Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Anne of Avonlea by L M Montgomery

Anne of Avonlea follows on from Anne of Green Gables. After the shock decision of Anne not to attend university but to return to Avonlea to be with Marila, Anne manages to secure a job teaching at the local school. As if a new job wasn't enough a relative of Marila's dies and Marila is left to bring up six year old twins Davy and Dora whilst their uncle finishes his job and secures a new home for them. Although Dora is extremely well behaved, Davy is a handful and is soon getting into all sorts of scrapes. Anne somehow also finds the time to work on improving Avonlea with the Improvement Society and it is not long before she too gets into some scrapes. With new neighbours and friends and old rivals Avonlea continues to provide adventures for Anne during her late teens.

Anne of Avonlea picks up right from where Anne of Green Gables finishes. Although some of the characters from the first book are no longer present or take much lesser roles in the book, there are enough of the core characters to keep a sense of familiarity. The book is another gentle trundle through Anne's adventures with the usual mix of mini disasters and small triumphs. It is certainly a mellow book, entirely suitable for young children and adults alike and best enjoyed over a mug of hot chocolate.

It is hard to be critical of Montgomery for her style of writing. After reading Anne of Green Gables I find that my expectations have changed and I was able to slip into reading Anne of Avonlea quite easily and not find it tedious or irritating. Certainly Anne has managed to rid herself of some of her more annoying habits and as one might expect is beginning to grow up. The book was written at a very different time from the modern day which means we have to accept its differences.

I would recommend that anyone who wants to read this book read Anne of Green Gables first (click on any mention of Anne of Green Gables in this review for a link to my review for the book). It is certainly worth reading if you want a light and gentle read to whisk you away to another more innocent age after a long hard, miserable day at work.

*3 stars*

Young Bloods by Simon Scarrow

Napoleon Bonaparte and Wellington are arguably two of the most well known figures of the late 18th/early 19th century. In his new series, 'Revolution', Simon Scarrow charts the the lives of these two men side by side from birth to death. Although fictional, the books do draw greatly from what is know about these two figures with a little added artistic licence. In the first book 'Young Bloods' the two men are followed from birth, through their school days and up until the start of their involvement in the European wars of the late 18th century.

Don't let the size of this book put you off. At 512 pages it is not a short book but it is definitely an excellent read. I know little about this period of history and therefore cannot vouch for how accurate Scarrow is, yet I feel that I have learnt a lot by reading this book. It paints Napoleon as a born military figure. He fights hard to overcome the racism against his origins and to prove that he is a talented man. Wellington (or Arthur Wesley as he was orignally known)does not strike you as a born man of the military. In some ways he makes his way into the army in an easier fashion than Bonaparte as he at least comes from a good background. Instead he has to deal with lack of talent (although he is a gifted musician), his mother who does not seem to love him and the eventual ruin his family suffer. Scarrow tries to deal with both characters sensitvely and impartially but it is clear to see how stubborn both men are and how they can at times be obnoxious or loveable.

Both men seem to have a talent for leadership. This is something that becomes apparent towards the end of the book and will no doubt become more important as the series progresses.

I was amazed at how easy the book was to read. I have to admit I read it in a day and read quite a bit before I realised how much I'd read (if you know what I mean!). It was engaging, interesting and I very much felt that most of the characters had depth. Despite having no interest in Napoleon and Wellington prior to reading this book I now find I watch the occasional documentary about this period as I now know something about this.

As this is the first installment of the series there is not a huge deal of fighting and action in that sense in the book. I suspect that the next two books will have far more fighting in them which may render them slightly tedious. However this book has certainly peaked my interest and I look forward to reading 'The Generals' in the near future.

*4 stars*

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

It is 1958 and Adam Strickland has reached the end of his second year studying at Cambridge. He is not the most diligent of students and when his tutor asks to see him he presumes he is in trouble for slacking. Instead he is offered a dissertation topic, studying the garden of a Tuscan villa owned by a friend of his tutor. Intrigued and desperate not to follow in his father's footsteps Adam agrees. What he does not anticipate is that the garden hides a 400 year old mystery and a curse that has followed the owners for years. Armed with his intellect alone Adam feels he must solve the mystery of the garden and the mystery that surrounds the current owners in the few short weeks he has.

I picked this book up as I hoped it would be something different to what I usually read. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. Although the first few chapters had me wondering if anything was going to happen as the story unfolded I was gradually drawn in. Like any good detective story by the end I was heading in the right direction although I hadn't quite guessed what was going on. There are plenty of twists and turns but for fans of fast paced action you will find this book very slow and lacking in action. Much of the story line involves looking at the garden and several of the older characters reminiscing, as well as family dinners.

It is certainly one of the better representations of Italy I have read of late. The descriptions make you want to visit but they don't drown the story line. The family at the centre of the book feel convincingly Italian. There is good food, good company and a general happiness that you expect from your stereotypical Italian experience.

Its a book that is well worth trying and persevering with past the first few chapters. Its not a difficult read and if you want a detective story with more similarity to Rosemary and Thyme than Waking the Dead then this is probably for you.

*3 stars*

It's been a while!

Ok guys so it's been a while since I updated this blog. Apologies! Still have no internet access at home and only get access to things like Blogger when I go and use the library computers (which tend to get quite busy). Ah well, such is life.

I've been keeping myself busy and been reading lots and lots of books. Unfortunately I can't review all of them but I'm going to add a few over the next few hours so keep a weather eye out.

Thanks for all the comments you've been sending. It really helps to know what people are interested in so I make sure I review a range of what I've been reading :) I'm open to requests so don't be shy to ask. Just add a comment direct to the blog or if you want to be a bit more private about it send it to my e-mail address (as printed in my profile).

I hope you all got lots and lots of books for Christmas and I wish you all a happy New Year.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Medicius and the Disappearing Dancing Girls by R.S. Downie

Ruso has just taken up a medical post with the Twentieth Legion in Chester. It is a dark, wet settlement on the very outskirts of the Empire, on the outskirts of the world. Driven to this job by desperate personal circumstances, Ruso is merely surviving. He lives with a colleague who is a regular ladies man and handsome to boot. Added to that he doesn't get on with his boss, a penny pinching bureaucrat who is more interested in how quickly they can treat patients than treating them properly. Then on his way back from a quick drink, Ruso comes across a badly injured slave girl. He buys the girl and tends her in the hope that he can sell her on for a huge profit and solve all his problems. This is never a wise idea, particularly if you find their eyes attractive. Meanwhile girls from the very place he enjoys a quiet drink are turning up dead and Ruso is the only one who cares enough to investigate. It seems as though the Gods aren't smiling on Ruso.

For anyone who enjoys Lindsey Davis' Falco series, you really must read 'Medicius and the disappearing dancing girls'. The main character, much like Falco, is a likeable, down-trodden guy with a good heart who somehow manages to get into more scrapes than a club bouncer. The story is well written, undemanding, and easy to read. I couldn't put it down when I'd started and ended up reading it in a day.

Downie's characters are very well written. I particularly like the portrayal of Priscus who is the archetypal bureaucrat you just want to slug. He makes pettiness into a fine art form and puts me in mind of one or two people I've come across in my years of working in local government. I liked Albanus as a character too and hope that he appears in any future instalments. I have a bit of a soft spot for clerks who come good! One character that felt a bit different was that of Tilla. A strong woman who doesn't want to be a slave who to begin with seems not to want to live but her spirit won't let her so she plans to escape instead. Her relationship with Ruso is not a typical slave/master relationship, nor is it overtly romantic either. Although Downie leaves scope for the two to fall for each other properly it doesn't seem to quite happen. To me that is far preferable to happy domesticity.

The setting of the book is fairly well written. Downie has certainly done her research and there doesn't seem to be any glaring factual mistakes. I particularly enjoyed the way she shows how far the Roman medical profession is behind modern medicine. The fact that most people are terrified of the doctors and that they can be a bit ruthless at times. It made the whole thing feel that little bit more real. It can be too tempting to turn your hero into a proper hero, able to cure anyone of anything. Ruso isn't a bad doctor, but nor is he set up as the greatest doctor either.

There are quite a few authors on the market whose books are historical crime stories set in the Roman period, Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor, Rosemary Rowe and Marilyn Todd to name but a few. I really feel that Downie deserves to be added to this list and it is my hope that Ruso and Tilla will enjoy another outing in the not too distant future.

*4 stars*

The Kings Last Song by Geoff Ryman

In a field in Cambodia the find of a lifetime is uncovered during an archaeological dig. It is the memoir of Cambodia's greatest king, preserved on sheets of gold for centuries. Cambodia is in turmoil, still reeling from the civil wars that have torn the country apart, and the massacres by Pol Pot. The treasure is stolen and the director of the excavation kidnapped. A young moto-boy and an ex-Khmer Rouge solider, brought together by their concern for the dig director, join forces to try and recover the memoirs. Yet with such opposing backgrounds and in a country on a knife edge their quest is in jeopardy before they even start. They must overcome their pasts and fight for a brighter future for their beloved country.

The book is set in multiple time frames in Cambodia, from the present day, to the 12th century of Jayavarman, to the memories of Luc and Map over the last 40-50 years. The book centres on the violent past of the country, not only in the past century but also in the 12th century. Cambodia is a country still struggling to come to terms with itself and re-build itself. Most of the characters are Cambodian and reflect the different backgrounds, from Map the ex-Khmer Rouge soldier who switched sides to William, a young man orphaned by the fighting, to Pich, one of the leaders of the opposition, ruthless and intelligent but fighting for a better future for Cambodia. There are also the odd Vietnamese characters and of course the French dig director to help show other characteristics of the country.

The inclusion of a story running parallel to the main narrative, centuries before the present day is an interesting device. The violence and turmoil of this story seems to show that the events of the most recent century are not new or indeed unique. It tells the story of a king striving to obtain peace but also, towards the end, yearning for power. It also shows that humans can never be flawless. We can all have good intentions but there will be times when we go against these.

Although the story was readable it didn't grab me as it has done others who recommended the book to me in the first place. I know nothing of this history of Cambodia and although have heard the names 'Pol Pot' and 'Khmer Rouge' I only know they were involved in genocide. I know absolutely nothing beyond that and I think that meant I got far less out of the story than I should have done. I admit I probably know more about Cambodia now that I did before I read the book, but still not enough to appreciate the nuances of the book. It has made me wish to read up a bit more about it though, so perhaps it has served one of Ryman's aims when writing the book!

It is quite clear that Ryman is in love with Cambodia. Despite the misery and the violence in the book there is a strand of hope running throughout it. Hope and desire to make Cambodia a better place. To see the country great once more. By the end of the book you sincerely hope that one day the characters will succeed in their quest.

This is definitely a book for anyone with an interest in Asia, particularly Vietnam & Cambodia. It is a book written in the hope that things will improve. It's certainly not a tourist travel novel, written with the sole intention of getting you to visit and spend money. It is definitely something that should be read if you want to learn about the country and the people who live there. It is meant to highlight the problems that the country faces but it does not suggest that tourism and foreign intervention will cure them.

*3 stars*

The Blackpool Highflyer by Andrew Martin

In the hot summer of 1905 Jim Stringer has work to do. For many the factories and mills of Halifax are closing for a short holiday and it's off to Scarborough and Blackpool. Jim is a fireman and it's his job to man the excursion trains for the summer break. However on one trip to Blackpool the train hits a millstone on the line and is derailed. Not convinced this is an idle act of vandalism, Jim thinks the Hind's Mill excursion train to Blackpool has been targeted specifically. There are several people with motives, but is Jim right or is he just chasing shadows?

This is the second book in the Jim Stringer series and immediately precedes 'The Lost Luggage Porter' and sees Jim still working as a fireman before his career change to the railway police. For those of you who have read 'Lost Luggage Porter' (or even my review of it) you may find this book jars with your knowledge of Jim and how he came to move to York. I for one was scratching my head over it all the way to the end of the book. I think it is definitely a case of reading these books in order. Therefore I recommend to anyone who hasn't tried these books to go and read them in order, starting with 'The Necropolis Railway', to avoid confusion.

Despite the slight lack of continuity between books, this was still and fairly enjoyable romp. In some ways the story reflects the restrained characteristics we think are typical of the Victorian/Edwardian periods. Jim is fairly down to earth, doesn't pick fights, goes to work, enjoys a drink and has a passion for his railway magazines. Often the heroes of crime fiction have awful foibles and depressing lives. They are womanisers, or alcoholics or bad parents. Jim has none of these foibles. He seems a pretty pleasant character with an equally pleasant wife. If anything the fact his wife cannot cook and is veering towards the suffragette cause is perhaps the most controversial thing about Jim and his family. In some ways this makes him a unique character in the crime fiction genre.

There’s not a lot more that can be said about this book. A book to pass the time rather than a 'must read' perhaps.

*3 stars*

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

It is 2002, a few months after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. A Norwegian journalist, Asne Seierstad, stumbles across a bookshop in Kabul. After months out with the troops a conversation with the bookseller about topics other than the war is refreshing. Yet Asne finds herself drawn back to Sultan Khan, the bookseller who defied both the Soviets and the Taliban to save precious books. She resolves to write about his life and that of his family. Welcomed as a guest into his home Asne gets to view a unique picture of the rapidly changing world of both the men and the women of Afghanistan.

After reading the 'Kabul Beauty School' I was determined to read 'The Bookseller of Kabul' in the hope that it would be as equally enjoyable. I must admit it was a book that was hard to put down and I read it within 24 hours. In some ways I wasn't expecting this after noting on the frontispiece that it was a translation, and my most recent experience of a translation (see my review of Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog) had not been positive. It was definitely easy to read and despite the slightly odd format where events are strung together and it is difficult to grasp when these events take place.

The book is extremely different from that of the 'Kabul Beauty School'. Asne features very little in the book, recording events rather than participating for the most part. Instead members of the family take it in turns to share the lime light. Men and women both get their stories told, although I felt that perhaps slightly more women had their stories recounted than men. It is also set at a different time in the liberation of Afghanistan. While Deborah Rodriguez writes about her experiences in 2003, Asne is covering a period in early 2002 when the Taliban have only just been ousted. Life was almost as restricted as it had been under the Taliban as people were too afraid to defy their rule, despite the fact they could no longer punish them. Also, Asne lives with a large family unit whereas Deborah has her own living space and makes her own small family unit. The list of differences between the books is endless and I would definitely recommend the pair as a reading comparison project. How can two women write such different accounts of one city, one country, one culture?

I do think that I read these books in the right order. Whilst the 'Kabul Beauty School' infused me with hope that things will get better, are getting better, 'The Bookseller of |Kabul' was less hopeful. I felt that the author was being as impartial as possible but I felt so sorry for almost all the members of the family. The first wife ousted from her position of authority, the unmarried sisters who are treated no better than slaves, the eldest son who desired to study, meet women and to have a life beyond the four walls of the bookshop etc etc. Sultan Khan is the ultimate patriarch with laudable ideals for a better Afghanistan yet with boundless wrath and an unforgiving nature for any family members who step out of line or question his authority. He is a man constricted by tradition and culture. By the end of the book you do wonder what effect Asne had on the family (something you wonder even more after reading the epilogue). It is hard to see what hope there is and whether things will ever change in the country. You also find yourself wondering if change is always a good thing and what sacrifices should be made.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and although it was hard to sympathise with the majority of characters did find myself drawn to them and eager to learn their fate. They are real people with foibles as much as anyone. People with contradictions to their character, but who all ultimately are trying to improve their lot, in whatever small ways they can. I would recommend this to anyone who has read 'The Kabul Beauty School' or is interested in learning more about the customs, traditions and history of Afghanistan. I have no doubt I will be adding Asne's other book 'A Hundred and One Days' which cover her time in Baghdad to my reading list. I would love to continue reading books of this ilk, but perhaps about countries other than Afghanistan.

*5 stars*

If you are interested in books about life in Afghanistan, have you tried 'The Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez?

Anne of Greengables by L. M. Montgomery

Siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert decide that they can no longer manage their farm alone. The help they hired every year was always unreliable and they wanted something a bit more permanent. Hearing that one of their friends has adopted, they feel that adopting a boy and teaching him how to manage the farm will solve all their problems. Yet somehow there is a mistake and the Cuthbert's are sent 11 year old Anne. A day-dreamer who talks too much she soon manages to upset plenty of people. Yet as time passes Anne grows and learns to tame her wild imagination and her tongue and it is not long before people learn to love Anne of Green Gables.

When I was little my father recommended I should read this. For reasons I don't remember I ignored his advice. Perhaps I felt it was too 'girly' for me and too twee. For years I have avoided things like 'Little House on the Prairie' and any adult chick lit that I've seen in bookshops and libraries. So when the Book Club Forum made Anne of Green Gables their book to read for August I thought I would give it a try.

To begin with I did find the format and the story annoying and not my sort of thing. It was slow, the character of motor-mouth Anne annoyed me endlessly and I started skipping through chunks of her monologues. I also felt the story wasn't going anywhere and held very little in the way of excitement. It wasn't badly written per-se, just of it's time and directed towards children rather than adults. I decided to continue reading it though as it wasn't dire. I'm glad I did because the story does improve about half way through. You begin to realise that Anne's character is annoying on purpose and very well written by Montgomery. You find as the characters develop that Matthew is extremely shy around women (which perhaps explains why he never married) and that despite her fa├žade, Marilla does care about others. I did find it a little disconcerting that so much of the book is dedicated to Anne when she is 11/12 and then you start leaping very suddenly through time until by the end of the book she is 16/17.

I think perhaps in some ways I was too old to read this book and enjoy it fully. I suspect I may have enjoyed it more when I was younger. Having said that perhaps it is a book that requires a certain amount of patience, something I was lacking in my youth! If you're looking for thrills and adventure this isn't the book for you. However if you're looking for a gentle, undemanding book with happy stories mingled with the sad woes of ordinary life in late 19th/early 20th century Canada then this is the right book for you. I was left wanting to know what happens next, as I know Montgomery wrote a sequel. I will be putting that on my reading list but I want to read it some wet and windy weekend in Autumn/Winter when I can curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and read a book to warm the heart. Despite it's slow start I would recommend this to others.

*4 stars*

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Dumbledore is dead and Harry is now left to complete his work, finding the rest of the deadly Horcruxes and destroying them before Voldemort gets them. Yet he, Hermione and Ron must go into hiding as Voldemort has finally succeeded in gaining control of the Ministry of Magic. In a climate of fear and repression our heroes are the only ones who can possibly save the day. Can they complete Dumbledore's work and free the world from Voldemort's tyranny?

In this, the final installment of the Harry Potter series, all the loose ends of the previous books. Although it is not a book that can be described as breathtaking or the best thing I have ever read it was still a good read. It nicely brings the series to a close. There are some extremely sad moments and as widely publicised prior to release a couple of central characters do die. It is a much darker book than even the 'Half Blood Prince'. Parallels can be drawn between the reign of Voldemort and Nazi Germany in that those who oppose the regime must flee underground or suffer torture and imprisonment. Half bloods have to be registered and everyone has to prove if they are pure blood. There are also some really good moments where things fans have hoped for do happen. I won't spoil it by saying any more!

The action centres around Harry, Ron and Hermione as you might expect. Other characters do make appearances throughout the book, bringing a smile to the face of anyone who is a fan. Actions in previous books come back to help or haunt our characters and at the end there is a really good twist that reward some people's faith in a specific character. The storyline keeps mainly to finding the Horcruxes but the trio do find a second quest to undertake.

After the 'Half Blood Prince' I was building myself up to feeling disappointed about 'The Deathly Hallows'. However that was not the case. I found myself wanting to read it and enjoying several of the scenes, especially the one involving the radio. As said earlier, it wasn't 'the best book I have ever read' and to be honest it was very much for fans of the series rather than any newcomers. I think if anyone gave up reading earlier in the series they should try again because the end is worth getting to. There is a lot to get your head round in some respects (anyone who has read the book will know what I mean when I refer to the Deathly Hallows). If you have persevered with the books so far you're at least half way prepared. I do wonder if perhaps J K Rowling made it a bit too complex but some how it all works in the end. I suspect I will be re-reading this book when I reach a lull in my current reading list. As I don't often re-read books I think that says it all really!

*4 stars*

Saturday, August 11, 2007

An update

Hi everyone,

Well I'm slowly settling in so as you can see I've started reviewing again. I can only get access sporadically so I won't be psoting reviews as often as I would like but nevermind!

I have turned on the comment facility again so if anyone would like to add their comments about any of the books I've reviewed, please feel free to do so!

Can I also remind everyone that you can sign up for e-mail bulletins of reviews by signing up to the newsletter on the right hand side of the page. So far three of us have signed up and I'm pretty sure I've set it up so you can receive the whole review (not just a tid-bit) in your e-mails. Means you don't have to visit the blog so much to keep up with the reviews.

I've updated the A-Z listings so they're right now. Will sort out adding a list of top books reviewed as well to make it easier to find books to try.

If you're interested in what I'm likely to be reviewing in the near future I've got 'Ann of Green Gables' by L.M. Montgomery and 'To Kill or Cure' by Susanna Gregory on my pile. I have read the latest Harry Potter and will review that soon, along with the latest Ladie's Detective Agency book by Alexander McCall Smith, so lots to look forward to!

Keep reading :)

The Big Over Easy by Jasper FForde

Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall, but was it accident or perhaps something more sinister? An ex-convict, ladies man and millionaire philanthropist he has his fair share of enemies, including his ex-wife. DI Jack Spratt and his new assistant Mary Mary must get to the bottom of the case, and quick. The Nursery Crimes Division is the laughing stock of Reading Police force and some recent expensive cases that failed to bring convictions have got their superiors ready to shut them down. Can Spratt prove that for once his hunches are right? Can he prove Humpty was murdered, and not by the ex-wife who has conveniently died in a horrific accident at the biscuit factory. With time running out for Spratt and his misfits and an old rival trying to undermine the investigation will Spratt be on traffic duty next week?

I’ve heard lots and lots about Jasper Fforde in the past but it has taken me until now to pick up my first Jasper Fforde book. I have certainly not been disappointed. It was witty, clever, funny (not in the laugh out loud sense, more in a quiet smirk kind of way) and a good story. I didn’t see the ending coming, but it wasn’t totally unrealistic. Lots of twists and turns and red herrings just to keep you guessing. A well put together murder mystery which pokes fun at the publicity over quality of results culture we keep finding ourselves in. The clever allusions to nursery rhymes that fit in neatly to the book are well thought out. From Giorgia Porgia the legendary crime boss, to DI Jack Spratt himself who has an unfortunate habit of killing tall people.

There’s nothing negative I can really say about this book. Ok so it’s not laugh out loud funny but that’s because of the type of humour. It will certainly appeal to anyone looking for more than just a quick holiday read. It does make you think, but not too much. The pace is good and like all the best films, just when you think they’ve solved it they haven’t, but fortunately it doesn’t get boring like the end of Casino Royale (it’s not a positive thing to sit in the cinema and keep saying, isn’t this over yet???).

I would recommend this to everyone, its well worth a try! I’m looking forward to reading the next book, ‘The Fourth Bear’.

*5 stars*

Monday, August 06, 2007

An Ancient Evil by Paul Doherty

A group of pilgrims are making their way towards Canterbury. During the day they swap tales full of humour and morals, tales made famous by Geoffrey Chaucer. Yet at night they swap stories of a different nature. Tales of murder, horror and woe. At
night they compete to see who can tell the best dark story, for the winner shall receive a purse of silver. Thus begins Doherty's series 'The Canterbury Tales Mysteries'.

In this book we have the Knight's tale. A knight, a clerk and a blind nun work together to save Oxford from a grim spectre of the past. People are being brutally murdered, students are missing and there are fears that the living dead are abroad. Are the old stories of a mysterious cult who disguised themselves as members of the cloth to hide their deceit true? Did these men and women really commit such horrific crimes centuries before and could they have returned to reek revenge? what is certain is that the perpetrators must be found before they strike again.

Doherty is well known for his historical murder mysteries. These include the Hugh Corbett Mysteries and the Brother Athelstan series, not to mention series set in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome and the court of Alexander the Great. Therefore there are no worries to be had on historical accuracy. Medieval England is a period Doherty knows well and this shines through with his take on a well known horror story. What makes the book work is the gradual unveiling of the story to the reader and I have no wish to spoil that by giving too much away. Suffice to say by the end of this book most readers will be aware of the clues and homages to the original story.

The book is not a taxing read and I confess to being quite engrossed whilst reading this. I avoid horror at all costs usually as I don't tend to enjoy the vampires, werewolves, zombies and scare tactics used. I also like to sleep soundly at night.
Nevertheless I found this book immensely enjoyable. I don't think it would appeal to horror fans though as even I didn't find this book too scary. The suspense was maintained till towards the end and all the murders were suitably gruesome. Yet perhaps it was the fact it was set in the 13th century that made me unable to see myself in that situation. Horror often works because we perceive the threats in the story as believable. A recent episode of Doctor Who had alien assassins who
disguised themselves as statues but who couldn't move if you looked directly at them. If you so much as blinked, they could move in the time your eyes were shut. What made it scary was that statues are all around us, and we don't think about them, so who knows which ones could be these aliens and sneak up on you when you blink? The setting of Doherty's book in the dim and distant past in situations that are alien to us in the present meant that the horror wasn't so apparent. I didn't feel as if I could possibly be in any danger.

If you have read other books by Doherty it is worth trying this series, especially as this is the first and sets up the premise of the series. I would also recommend it to those who enjoy historical crime fiction as something a little different to what they usually read, if they want to try something new. It's a sort of crime/horror combo, but as I've said before not a hugely terrifying story so good for those who are not big horror fans.

3 stars

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Eve of Saint Hyacinth by Kate Sedley

Roger the Chapman is back on the open road, leaving his six month old daughter with his mother in law. He decides to try his luck in London where the king is gathering his troops to invade France. There should be enough customers for his wares there. Then one night he happens to over hear a conversation he shouldn't have and it is not long before one of the two men he over hears is found dead. Despite his better judgment he stays in London and is swiftly entangled with Timothy Plumber, spy master for Duke Richard of Gloucester. There is a plot to murder the Duke and Roger finds himself engaged to uncover the assassin. Can Roger put his monastic schooling to good use and find out who would want Richard dead and why?

I quite enjoy picking up books in the 'Roger the Chapman' series. They're always a good light read, not too taxing but engaging enough to make you want to read them. I like the character of Roger very much, the fairly easy going, intelligent young man. He has his vices but in the grand scheme of things these are quite insignificant (he claims to be too apt to fall in love but quick to fall out of it for instance). He remains untainted by the intrigues he finds himself caught up in. Innocent but worldly wise at the same time. Its an odd combination but if you read the books you'll see what I mean.

Sedley has no problems conjuring up a believable world for Roger to inhabit. From what little I know of this period I do feel it is fairly accurate and I particularly like the early parts of the book where Roger is drifting around the Hampshire countryside selling his wares. I can very much believe that the women in the far out cottages and settlements might not see a pedlar for months. I also found her description of the sheep washing detailed and yet interesting, something which I don't think I would normally feel about sheep washing in general!

I also like the way in which Sedley is able to be accurate about the mundane as well as the political events of the 15th century. The problems between the Woodville family and the King's brothers is beautifully portrayed (I particularly like the moment when the Duke of Clarence insults the Queen at the banquet). In some ways its hard to believe a simple Chapman would be aware of the politics surrounding the war with France but his background in the church before he quit for a life on the road it seems possible he would know such things. Also being on the road he's apt to pick up gossip all over the country.

I did enjoy this book but it was 'ok' rather than something I would necessarily recommend to all my friends. It was good, but a bit gentle perhaps for some tastes. This particular installment was still accessible for those who have not read any of the series so far and is in fact a good introduction to Roger's character. So anyone who does fancy a
non-too-taxing medieval murder mystery to read then I would recommend this one.

*3 stars*

If you enjoyed this book you might also enjoy
*The Poisoned Chalice by Bernard Knight

Other books by Kate Sedley
*For King and Country

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A quick news round-up

Well the time has almost come for me to switch off my computer
and pack i up with all my other belongings. The reading is
suffering at the moment so it may be a couple of weeks before I
have any reviews to post. I suspect the most likely review to
come next will be 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows', you
have been warned!

I've decided to submit some of my more recent reviews to Digg,
just out of interest to see which (if any) get 'dugg' by people.
Annoyingly they don't have a section for anything book related
so I'm having to list them under 'Offbeat news'. If anyone fancies
'digging' some of these reviews you can find a full list of the
ones to dig at .

In other news I've decided that during my absence I'm going to
turn off the ability to leave comments on my blogs. This is simply
because I can't get access to blogger to delete any spam/totally
irrelevant nasty messages. You can still keep in contact with me
though at . Thankfully I'll be
able to access my e-mails regularly!

You'll also be pleased to here I'm ignoring an e-mail I've just had
from a casino company to advertise on this blog. No nasty
adverts clogging up this review blog!

Keep tuned for more reviews :)

This post has been submitted by e-mail

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Lost Luggage Porter by Andrew Martin

It's December 1905 and Jim Striger is starting his new job as a
detective for the North East Railway Company at the York office.
It's a job he doesn't want and he'd far rather be back on the
trains. His new boss decides to send him undercover to
investigate pickpockets and other small fry who have been
operating at the station. Yet events take a turn and Striger ends
up being dragged into the deep, murky underworld of York. As if
that wasn't enough, back home he's trying to keep the peace
between his heavily pregnant Suffragette wife and his deeply
conservative father. With a new addition of the family on the way
and a murderer on the loose Striger must find a way to keep the
peace, stay alive and not get fired.

Although this is the third book in the Jim Striger series I
thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Martin was very good at
explaining some of the background when needed (that
presumably readers of the first two books wouldn't need) without
lingering too long on it. I didn't feel penalised for not reading the
first two books and felt like I wanted to go back and find out a bit
more about what happened. It is great that a writer can do this.

The style of the book is somewhat different to what I'm used to.
Striger's character is a hard working Victorian/Edwardian middle
class kind of guy. He's old fashioned in our eyes but with
enough forward thinking ideas to make him interesting. He fits in
well with the time the book is set and occupies the space
between his wife's Suffragette views and his father's Victorian
value system. It's hard to explain but in a way Martin's text feels
slightly old fashioned in style, very in keeping with the story.

Striger is very uncomfortable in his new role and that comes
across well in the book. He's not sure how far he can go with his
'role' without breaking the law. Its all new territory for him, so
there is a struggle between his law abiding normal self and what
he needs to do for his alias to ring true. He's not your typical
detective. He's been thrown into the career rather than choosing
it and he often feels it's a punishment. Yet there are times when
he seems to be enjoying himself. The thrill he feels the first time
he goes undercover (before his conservative self asserts itself)
is just one example of this. There are times when he sounds like
a middle aged man but occasionally there are glimpses that
show that actually he's quite a young, intelligent man. He's a bit
world weary but naive all the same.

I would definitely recommend this to all those who like historical
crime fiction as something new and different (at least from
anything I've read). Well written and researched. I would
however suggest people might want to start with the first book in
this series, 'The Necropolis Railway'. You can enjoy 'Lost
Luggage Porter' without reading the previous two books though
so don't worry if you can't get hold of it. Worth reading if you like
Edward Marston's 'Railway Detective' series.

*4 stars*

This review has been submitted by e-mail

If you enjoyed reading this story click here to digg it.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Hints and Tips from a Bookworm

After reading one of the comments posted on here today it's got me
thinking about what my top tips for reading would be. So here goes!

* Reading should be for fun, not a chore. If the book you're reading
really isn't suitable for you, don't feel bad about putting it down and
trying something else

* Reading groups are a great way of finding new authors or new
genres you might not otherwise have tried. Your local library should
be able to help you find one.

*  Join your local library. Its a great way to try books especially if
you're short on funds. Libraries also have DVDs and CDs to borrow
so you're sure to find something whatever your mood. Added to that
library staff can be amazingly helpful on just about anything.

*  Always take people's suggestions as suggestions. Never let anyone
tell you what you can and can't read. We all have different tastes,
don't be ashamed to be different. Just because a book is a Booker
Prize winner or something doesn't mean you'll like it.

*  Try and judge your book by the blurb on the back rather than the
title or book cover. Publishers don't always get the covers right and
some titles can sound amazingly boring whilst the book is exciting
and worth reading.

*  Try and find a small amount of time to read every day. It can help
with stress and gives you a creative outlet (use that imagination!).
Some people choose to read in bed just before they go to sleep.
Whatever works for you.

*  Don't be afraid to give new books a try.

*  Sometimes when you read a book you may not be in the right
mood for it. You can always put it back on the to read pile and come
back to it when the time is right. A good book will never disappear.

* Writing up a 'to read' list can help when you can't remember what
books you want to read. Be sure to update it every time you hear
about another book you would like to try.

These are just some helpful hints. There are plenty more out there
and I'll be sure to keep this post updated with any new tips that come
my way. If there are any you would like to add either add a comment
at the end of this post or e-mail me at .

This post has been posted by e-mail

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Waxman Murders by Paul Doherty

Corbett is sent to Canterbury to deal with the murder of a local
merchant. His wife stands accused but as a ward of the King she
has been able to claim assistance from the King in the form of
Corbett. As well as this murder, Corbett has a pressing meeting with
two local merchants on behalf of the monarch to discuss a treasure
map. Yet when one of these merchants and his entire family is found
murdered in an inexplicable set of circumstances Corbett is drawn
into a web of intrigue that spans 30 years. Can Corbett solve all the
riddles before the killer reaches him? This is the 15th book in the
Hugh Corbett series.

I have read a couple of the books in this series. Unfortunately not all
and not in any particular order so I don't have a good grasp on the
background of the central characters and the events that have lead
up to this point. I did feel that a conscious effort was made to flesh
out the character of Corbett, particularly in reference to his religious
leanings and love of music. The story itself was fairly mediocre and
didn't really stretch the imagination. I'd worked out who the main
suspect was likely to be early on based on his cloying nature. I do
admit though that I didn't see one of the main twists in the tale til it
was revealed. On the whole though this murder mystery did little for
me. It was a light read to pass the time.

Perhaps I might have felt a bit differently about this book if I had
read the others in the series, in order, first. I would suggest that
anyone  who feels like trying this series should start with the first
book, 'Satan in St Mary's'. If you want to see the entire list of Corbett
books  and see which order they come in visit the Fantastic Fiction
website  page on Paul Doherty. I do quite like Paul Doherty's work in
general but prefer the Ancient Rome series and the Brother Athelstan
series.  The new Mathilde of Westminster series isn't bad either (the
first  book in this series is The Cup of Ghosts which I reviewed in
May 2006).

Like some of the books I've read recently I would consider this an ok
read but not necessarily one that I'd run out and recommend to all
my friends and family. The characters were not too bland and a
couple of the mysteries were intriguing enough to keep the reader
occupied. If you have a passion for historical murder mysteries,
particularly those set medieval England then give this series a try.

*2 and a half stars*

Temporary Changes to Suggestions for a Bookworm

Today I've been experimenting with posting reviews via e-mail. In a
couple of weeks I will be moving and at present I don't know when I
will be getting an internet connection. It could be 1 month it could be
6 (long story!). Anyway, as I will no doubt be reading during this time
and I will still want to share my reviews with you then I have been
trying to find a way round lack of internet. When previously in this
situation I have used the internet at the local library. The problem is
that often Blogger is blocked on their computers so I can't directly
post. Instead I can access e-mails so this is the next best thing.
It does mean that the formatting of the posts might be a little off
from time to time but they will all be corrected when I can access
the Blogger website.

The downside though is that I won't be able to up date the A-Z lists
until I get access to the internet properly. Hopefully this will only be a
temporary inconvenience. I still will be able to post reviews which is
the main thing.

The other website that I have been unable to access in the past
through library computers is MySpace. That means that for all of you
who visit here through my updates on various MySpace groups and
on my MySpace blog I will no longer be able to keep you up to date.
The only ways to keep up will be through using an RSS programme
like Bloglines or FeedDemon or by visiting the site regularly. It's a
real pain, sorry.

These changes will begin to take effect from Monday 16th July.

If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to share!

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

Iris Lockheart runs her own shop in Edinburgh. She has a string of
unfulfilled relationships to her name, her grandmother is in a world
of her own and her half brother constantly disapproves of the men
in her life. Then she gets a letter about Euphemia Lennox, a
relative she has never heard of who lives in a psychiatric unit. All
of a sudden Euphemia (or Esme as she prefers to be called) is
thrown into Iris' life and so begins a gradual untangling of threads
as to how Esme really ended up vanishing from polite society.

This is definitely one of those books you need to be in the right
mood to read. I think perhaps if I had been this book may have
scored 4 stars. As it was I initially found it a bit confusing. You keep
switching between the present, Esme's memories, Iris' memories
and Kitty's mind (these bits are particularly confusing as she
constantly switches to different time frames mid memory because
she's suffering Alzheimer's). Once you get past this and into the story
it's actually quite enjoyable. It shows how families coped with
post-colonialism, and how women were expected to behave and were
treated in 1930s polite society. It's dark in its way and as the story
progresses you gradually uncover more and more hidden secrets.

O'Farrell is also very good at throwing you off track. At first you
genuinely think Esme is not right in the head and then you realise
she's just different which wasn't acceptable at the time. There are
other instances of this but I won't spoil the storyline by telling you
about them!

In terms of writing style I'm not a huge fan of novels that flick
constantly between characters and at a rate of a page or two
between  switches. It does eventually work and by the end of the
book you  understand why its been written that way but initially it
is incredibly  frustrating. I did admire the bits where Kitty is the one
reflecting because I felt it was very very well done. I haven't had to
deal with  Alzheimer's myself but from what I know about it from
friends who have it is almost like the person has no control over
their chain of thoughts. They don't necessarily forget but their ability
to distinguish between reality,  dreams and memories goes. It just
somehow felt a very real depiction of what someone with Alzheimer's
might be thinking.

As with 'The Kabul Beauty School' I finished the book feeling infinitely
glad that I live in the here and now and that even if I were living in
the 1930s I come from a working class family so wouldn't have had
the life Esme and Kitty did. I'm also glad that I have a much better
relationship with my own sister! Although I wasn't in the mood for it
this weekend it was still a good read and definitely worth trying. Just
have a bit of patience with it!

*3 stars*

This review has been submitted by e-mail.

If you enjoyed this why not try 'The Behaviour of Moths' by Poppy Adams?

If you want to find out more about this book why not visit Amazon UK by visiting the following link
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Lily lives on a farm in South Carolina with her father T Ray and Rosaleen. Rosaleen has been looking after Lily since her mother died ten years ago. Convinced she is responsible for her mother's death and an outcast in her small community Lily leads a lonely life. Then Rosaleen is attacked on her way to register to vote. Rosaleen is black and so she is arrested rather than her attackers. Lily helps Rosaleen escape and they become fugitives. On the run with no where to go they stumble across a brightly painted pink house and three sisters who tend bees. So begins a summer of discovery for Lily who must come to terms with her past and her present to be able to decide on her future.

This book is very much a 'coming of age story'. Set in the deep south of America in 1964, the year Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act the key theme of this book is racism. Lily is in some ways quite naive about the racial hatred towards the black community. She is surprised by the attack on Rosaleen and has no idea her life might be in danger until her father tells her this when taking her home after being arrested with Rosaleen. Yet by the end of the book you're desperately wishing Lily's acceptance of the black people around her could be adopted by the white community as a whole. At one point a police officer visits the pink house and suggests that Lily shouldn't be lowering herself by staying there and I really just wanted to slap him one! Living in the modern world where such blatant racism is considered unusual and highly disgusting rather than the norm it is hard to really understand the vast majority of the white characters in the book. You sympathise with Lily and the black characters of this book.

The book is very easy to read, and very straightforward. I must admit that I wasn't expecting the twist at the end of the book and I applaud the author for not falling into the trap of making the ending 100% uplifting. I won't say more than that for fear of giving it all away! This book was also a very quick read, I started about 10:30pm last night and was finished by 1am. Although I couldn't put it down because I wanted to see what would happen it didn't grab me in the way that 'The Book of Lost Things' or 'The Kabul Beauty School' did. I can't decide if it was because I felt parts of this story were a little too 'convenient' and had a 'been done before' flavour. The book reminds me of 'How to Make an American Quilt', the 'Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood' and 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. It's got elements from each in it. It was a good read and I did enjoy it but it was very much a light read for me.

*3 stars*

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Good book? Tell the world

Have you enjoyed reading the reviews here? If so, pass the reviews on! At the end of every post is a little envelope symbol. Click this and you can send your friends and family a copy of the review.

If you want to keep up to date with all the reviews here on Suggestions for a Bookworm, why not sign up to our RSS feed through sites like Bloglines? It's a great way of keeping up to date without waiting for notices on forums like MySpace (which I can't always guarantee access to).

Lastly, if anyone out there wants to link to Suggestions for a Bookworm, go ahead!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

When Henry first saw Clare, he thought she was beautiful and captivating. Clare on the other hand was astonished to see Henry looking so young. 'The Time Traveler's Wife' follows the story of Clare and Henry. Henry has a rare disorder which means that he inadvertently time travels. When he does he just disappears to a random point in the past or the future (usually within 50 years either way). When he goes he can take nothing with him, including clothes. Henry must learn how to survive his condition and the perils associated with it. Clare must learn to love Henry, despite never knowing if she will wake up beside him in the morning and the side effects of Henry's condition. Is it really possible to happy as the time traveler's wife?

Its hard to sum up what this book is about in an interesting way without giving too much away. The concept is simple, Henry time travels. Unlike H G Well's time machine inventor, or Marty McFly, Henry can't take anything with him and has no control over where or when he goes. It's a good twist to what might otherwise be another time travel story. Henry must survive his condition anyway he can and so you end up with amusing scenarios when he's teaching a younger version of himself to pick pocket or he ends up in fight because he's managed to steal some very unusual clothing. Added to this mix is Clare, who is head over heels in love with Henry and some how manages to put up with the bizarre events as they unfold. It was a good book, well written, and tugged at the heart strings.

I think it's a good book on the imperfections of relationships. Nothing is perfect, least of all love. Niffenegger manages to illustrate this in numerous ways and shows that even the best relationships have their crosses to bare. For Clare and Henry this is coping with the unpredictability of his condition and Clare's desperation for a child which Henry does not necessarily share 100%. Each of them is able to reach some level of understanding about the other to cope though. Clare accepts to an extent Henry's condition and lives with it, while Henry is able to see what it means to Clare to have a child (and ultimately helps her to do so).

Any book that involves moving backwards and forwards in time and space at random is going to have a difficult job keeping their audience from total confusion. This has to be one of the best efforts I've read though. Yes, there is always a small element of confusion, but I feel it adds something to the book. It echoes the confusion of the characters at various points (e.g. Henry when he *first* meets Clare when he's 28, Clare's confusion at times in her youth about Henry, various members of Clare's family feeling like they've seen Henry before, Gomez's confusion over seeing Clare and Henry together when he's supposedly dating someone else etc etc). Yet for the most part you could still follow the storyline.

It is a very cleverly crafted book, with characters with depth and enough imperfections to keep them interesting. Even Alba sounds slightly pretentious when we meet her at the age of 10. It's what keeps the story real. No angels and no devils. It makes the characters feel like real people, even goody-two-shoes Clare has her faults.

It's definitely worth picking up and trying.

*4 stars*

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Authors N-Z


Niffenegger, Audrey
*The Time Traveler's Wife

Nix, Garth
*Grim Tuesday


O'Farrell, Maggie
*The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox


Paolini, Christopher

*The Last Days of Newgate

Pratchett, Terry
*Making Money

Price, Susan
*The Sterkarm Handshake


Rodriguez, Deborah
*The Kabul Beauty School

Rowe, Rosemary
*A Roman Ransom

Rowling, J.K.
*Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Ryman, Geoff
*The King's Last Song


Sansom, C.J

Scarrow, Simon
*Young Bloods

Scott, Michael
*The Alchemyst

Scott, Robert & Gordon, Jay
*The Hickory Staff: Eldarn Sequence Book 1

Sedley, Kate
*For King and Country
*The Eve of St Hyacinth

Seierstad, Asne
*The Bookseller of Kabul


Tannahill, Raey
*Having the Builders in

Todd, Marilyn
*Scorpion Rising

Tremayne, Peter
*A Prayer for the Damned


Young, Simon
*Farewell Britannia

Authors A-M


Adams, Poppy
*The Behaviour of Moths

Albom, Mitch
*The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Aston, Elizabeth
*The Way of the World


Cleeves, Ann
*Telling Tales

Connolly, John
*Book of Lost Things


Davis, Lindsey

Doherty, Paul
*The Cup of Ghosts
*The Waxman Murders
*An Ancient Evil

Downie, R S
*Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls

Dunant, Sarah
*The Birth of Venus


Edwards-Jones, Imogen
*Tuscany for Beginners


Fforde, Jasper
*The Big Over Easy

Franklin, Ariana
*The Mistress of the Art of Death

Furey, Maggie
*The Spirit of the Stone


Gardner, Sally
*I Coriander
*The Red Necklace

Gordon, Jay & Scott, Robert
*The Hickory Staff: Eldarn Sequence Book 1

Gregory, Susanna
*Blood on the Strand
*The Butcher of Smithfield
*The Westminster Poisoner


Haddon, Mark
*Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

Hill, Stuart
*The Cry of the Icemark
*Blade of Fire


Knight, Bernard
*The Poisoned Chalice


Lake, Deryn
*Death in the Setting Sun
*Death and the Cornish Fiddler

Lee, YS
*The Agency: Spy in the House


Marston, Edward
*The Painted Lady
*Soldier of Fortune

Martin, Andrew
*The Lost Luggage Porter
*The Blackpool Highflyer

McMahon, Katherine
*The Rose of Sebastopol

Mills, Mark
* The Savage Garden

Min, Anchee
*Empress Orchid

Monk Kidd, Sue
*The Secret Life of Bees

Montgomery, L M
*Anne of Green Gables
*Anne of Avonlea

A bit of house keeping

I've decided I want to make the blog a bit more user friendly so will be working today on layout etc. I really could use some comments from people on what would make the site more accessible for you and what you would like to see. Remember anyone can leave a comment on here, you don't have to sign up to anything or even leave your name!

One of the things I'm thinking about doing is have two 'pages' dedicated to alphabetical lists of the authors covered here. The first would be A-M and the second would be N-Z. There would then be links to these from the link section on the right hand side of the page so you can get to wherever you want more quickly.

I'm also going to try and work out ways of getting people to link to the site and recommend the site. Not sure how, but will site down and have a think about it.

I would like to recommend to people who might want to keep an eye on this site but don't want to come every day to sign up to a service like Bloglines. Bloglines is free and tracks whether new posts have been made on any of the blogs you choose to watch on it. It will then give you the first bit of the new post so you can decide if you want to bother to go and read it. It's pretty cool. There are other similar programmes out there and I'm sure a Google search will show you them. If you fancy giving Bloglines a go visit .

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

David has always been an avid reader, but after the loss of his mother he gradually retreats more and more into them. Then the unthinkable happens, his Dad meets Rose and soon he gets a new brother, Georgie. Meanwhile Hitler marches through Europe and the bombs begin to drop on London. Taken to live in Rose's house outside the City, David finds the world around him becoming more and more unrecognizable. It is then that The Crooked Man begins to appear and David's life will never be the same again.

If you ever read and enjoyed Grimm's fairy tales and all those myths and legends you read as a child, The Book of Lost Things is the book for you. You will delight in the re-fashioning of Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty and many others. As David makes his way through the magical world he finds himself in you will keep finding references to other childhood stories you know. Connolly gives all of these stories a darker (and in some cases almost black) edge though and there is a bit of gore to be had. It is definitely more of a book for adults to appreciate the stories of their childhood than one to read to young children.

The book is beautifully written. I got so engrossed in every detail, from the smell of the Woodsman's Cottage to the visceral deaths of the wolves at the hands of the Crooked Man. The story flows seamlessly through each tale, to make a rounded and full tale all in its own right. It deals with the issues of grief and jealously from the point of view of a small child, but not written in a childish way. I honestly couldn't put this book down and at over 300 pages it is not a light read. I can't put into words just how much I enjoyed this book. The characters had depth, they weren't perfect and they incorporated some very adult themes you don't often find in fairy tales (there is a suggestion that one of the characters is homosexual). Yet it wasn't written in such a way as to make any of the characters sound scandalous. I didn't feel Connolly was being unfaithful to the fairy tales, just adding the bits that children would never know. A bit like not knowing or understanding that a family friend is gay when you're a child but finding out about it when you grow up.

I would recommend this to anyone, I can't stress enough how much of a good read it is.

*5 stars*

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time by Mark Haddon

One night, 15 year old Christopher finds a dog dead in his next door neighbour's garden. Thus begins the unraveling of Christopher's world. Yet Christopher is no ordinary boy. He's highly intelligent, a skilled mathematician, but he's autistic. Join Christopher on his journey through the world as he sees it. How he tries to understand people and events and just what makes him tick.

I have heard so many people praising Mark Haddon and raving about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time' that when I saw it on the shelf in the library I thought I'd try it. Yet on finishing the book I wondered what all the fuss was about.

Yes, it is a different and clever take on writing a novel. It is completely written from Christopher's point of view, misunderstandings and tangents included. However it did mean that the book was rather child like in some ways. When I finished the book I realised the story that had taken up the entire book might only have filled half or ever quarter of a book written in a more normal style. Whilst there was progression for some of the characters I didn't feel this applied to Christopher. Maybe because of his condition it can't.

I guess I was coming at this book from a very personal angle. I've had a bad experience with someone with this sort of difficulty and have ended up frightened and questioning how I interact with others (how do you explain to someone who can't understand social interaction and personality like other people can that when you're chatty and smiley with them thats because thats who you are and you're chatty and smiley with everyone, that you didn't highlight your hair because of them, but because you wanted to and therefore their belief that you have feelings for them and their declarations of love and their insistence on having their possessions when they die are incorrect and overstepping the invisible line of what is acceptable which they can't see ).

Despite all of this Haddon is a good writer, ingenious in fact. I won't let this book put me off trying other books he writes, although I'll steer clear of any on this subject matter.

*3 stars*

Death and the Cornish Fiddler by Deryn Lake

In this eleventh outing for John Rawlings we find our beloved apothecary in Devon with his daughter Rose. They are taking a welcome break from London with his old friend Elizabeth di Lorenzi after the death of Emilia Rawlings (see 'Death in the Setting Sun' for more background on this). Elizabeth is keen to attend The Floral Dance, a local pagan festival in a tiny village known as Helstone. Both John and Rose are eager to attend and it is not long before the party are enjoying the sights and sounds of Helstone during the festivities. It is in Helstone that they meet a disagreeable young girl who terrorises Rose. Yet when the child goes missing John knows he must do everything in his power to find her. It is not long before one of the guests at the inn dies in mysterious circumstances and once again John is on the trail of murder and mayhem. Not everything is as it seems and perhaps the magic and witchcraft surrounding the festivities is much more than local superstition.

The last volume in this series was exceedingly heart wrenching. For John to loose the love of his life and have to go on the run when accused of her murder, it would be hard for any author to follow that. Sadly, this is the case. Although an enjoyable romp through 18th century Devon this book lacks the raw emotion and gripping storyline of the previous book. Much of the storyline was predictable, particularly that concerning Elizabeth di Lorenzi. It felt like a book cobbled together in the aftermath of Emilia's death and John's exoneration. I suspect that Lake has very clear ideas about the next book and that this installment is merely a filler between that and 'Death in the Setting Sun'.

As well as the predictability I found many of the characters lacked depth and interest. I appreciate that many are invented to set our teeth on edge but I kept wanting more. The lack of John Fielding, Sir Gabriel, Samuel, Nicholas and other regular characters I found saddening. Over the last few books the old faces are beginning to dwindle and unfortunately I do not feel they are being replaced by worthy candidates.

I will definitely be reading the next installment of this series, not least because I want to be reassured that this is a momentary lapse in Lake's excellent writing career. I would definitely recommend this series to anyone who enjoys well constructed, beautifully set murder mysteries. One cannot fault Deryn's ability to paint 18th century alive with words. I would recommend you go out and start at the beginning of the series with 'Death in the Dark Walk'. If you read I first you really not be sampling her finest work or come to love John and his family and friends as much as I do.

*3 stars*

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Way of the World by Elizabeth Aston

It is about 20 years after the events in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The Darcy's are off to Constantinople, leaving their five daughters with Fitzwilliam and his wife Fanny for a season in London. The girls must carefully pick their way through high society in the hope of finding eligible matches, enduring being jilted, hoodwinked, falling in love with the wrong men and scandalous gossip about their conduct. Will the shades of Pemberly be polluted or will the girl's manage to keep their reputations?

I must admit I picked this book up because I adore Pride and Prejudice. I have read Carrie A Bebris' Mr and Mrs Darcy series and enjoyed them as light reading. Although I found 'The Way of the World' readable I have to admit I probably won't be recommending it unlike the Mr and Mrs Darcy series. The book started slowly and when it finally got going it wasn't too long before it felt a bit too unlike Austen in terms of plot. Aston does manage to incorporate the various characters from Pride and Prejudice but topics like sodomy and pregnancy out of wedlock aren't really discussed openly in Austen's work. The five daughters of Darcy have very few redeeming qualities between them. The most likeable character is Althea, but perhaps this is because she is a fairly minor character with only a few major scenes so you haven't got the chance to dislike her. Letty is so prim and proper and highly strung that you feel she is a cross between Mrs Bennett and the early impression we get of Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Camilla is meant to be the Elizabeth like character but I just didn't feel she was. Belle and Georgina are clearly the Kitty and Lydia of this book but it's almost as if Aston is trying to out-do Austen in the scandal stakes. Theres one point where one of the twins is found in a state of undress with an admirer.

The book did make me want to keep reading, just out of fascination to see what would happen to everyone. The middle bit of the book was the most gripping, whilst the last section of the book seemed very out of character with Austen's world. It felt like Aston was trying to update Austen and make it a bit more exciting for modern tastes. It's not what I like. I like Austen because I find her humorous and I don't find the plots threatening. I find Austen gentle, but not Aston. I also found the constant references to the beauty of unmarried women in the book (or their lack of it) irritating. I only needed to be told how pretty cousin Sophie was once, and not have her constantly compared to the other young ladies.

I would recommend this to people who although enjoyed Austen's works felt it needed a bit of spice and updating.

*2 stars*

Saturday, June 23, 2007

More reviews & a new website

I've been doing a few reviews on a new website I've found called 'The Book Club Forum'. It's a great website where you can discuss books, pick up great reviews and keep a list of all the books you're planning to read. I'll still do reviews here (don't see the point in repeating reviews for books that have already been done on the site), but any I do there I will post links to. The good thing about this new website is that you only need to join if you want to post something. Non-members can still browse and read most of the topics (the review ones definitely!).

Anyway, I've been doing lots and lots of reading lately so here are the links for the other reviews I've done.

The Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez - the true story of an American hairdresser who helps the women of Kabul find freedom through training as beauticians after the fall of the Taleban.

The Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin - a murder mystery set in 12th century Cambridge.

And if any of you want to see whats I'm reading and what reviews are likely to be coming up check out my 'to read pile'.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tuscany for Beginners - by Imogen Edwards-Jones

It has been 5 years since Belinda discovered her husband in bed with the next door neighbour. After the divorce she moved to Tuscany and opened an exclusive Bed and Breakfast establishment. Over those five years she has built up a small group of ex-pat friends and gotten involved in several local events. She has even started to write a book about her experiences, peppered with her rustic Italian recipes. Yet this summer her world will be turned on its head. This summer a new resident moves into her valley, and she too has decided to open an exclusive Bed and Breakfast. How will Belinda cope with her new competition, who not only wants her business but her social life as well?

This book is the latest read in the book club I have joined. Again, like the previous book I read for this club (see my review of 'Telling Tales' by Ann Cleeves) it was not a book I would normally pick up. To be honest it will continue to be the sort of book I never pick up! From start to finish I found I hated this book. The storyline did not interest me, I did not like any of the characters at all and I felt reading this book had been a waste of my time.

The main character Belinda sounds an absolute nightmare. Lazy, self-obsessed and devoid of basic customer service skills (a necessity one would think when running a B&B). She is a downright snob, who looks down on just about everyone in one way or another. Quite frankly I would not wish to stay at her establishment if it were the last on earth. I can also understand why her husband had an affair with the neighbour. Her fellow ex-pats are also utterly unlovable. They sound like the typical caricatures of Brits abroad, not willing to eat like or rub shoulders with the locals, who spend most of their time working on their tan or paying for new palm trees or swimming pools. The American (Lauren) who competes against Belinda is hard to like too. Although she manages everything much better than Belinda she still comes across as vindictive and selfish. Even the characters we probably should feel sympathetic towards (Belinda's daughter and Lauren's soon) some across as spineless, weak and uninteresting.

The story is meant to be comic but I felt it was all too forced. It was too much of a caricature of the worst of human behaviour. The humour was obvious and unfunny. A lot of the plot seemed fanciful, especially the ending, and it all came across as some bad dream.

It comes as no surprised therefore that the author helped write the scripts for the BBC drama 'Hotel Babylon'. It too suffers from caricatures rather than characters and lots of unfunny humour.

It's a shame that this book does no justice to Tuscany. Although I have not been to Tuscany I have been to Italy on numerous occasions and would recommend to everyone to visit. This book rather puts you off visiting the country which is a real shame.

I would not recommend this book to anyone. I am certain there are better 'ex-pat' novels than this out there and I'd love the chance to read them and restore my faith in this genre. Suggestions gratefully received!

*1 star*

Blood on the Strand - Susanna Gregory

This is Gregory's second book concerning the 16th century spy Thomas Chaloner. Originally a spy for Oliver Cromwell in Holland, Chaloner has returned to England in the wake of the Restoration to continue his career in England. With links to the old government and a relative who signed Charles I's death warrant, few trust Chaloner and he has picked up several enemies. By the end of the previous book he had managed to secure employment but as this second installment goes to show, this does not offer Chaloner guaranteed protection.

In this book Chaloner is faced with investigating an apparent attempt on the King's life, the murder of an influential merchant and the various schemes afoot to discredit his employer, the Earl of Clarendon. Seemingly involved in these various plots are the Company of Barber Surgeons, the Earl of Bristol, the Guinea Company and several of his spy colleagues. Can Chaloner protect his employer, save those falsely accused of the merchant's murder and discover why one of the Royal physicians appears to have made an attempt on the monarch's life? In a world of courtly intrigues, when it is fashionable to attend dissections of human bodies and where England is quietly simmering with religious tension anything could happen.

I read the first book in this series (A Conspiracy of Violence) last year and couldn't put it down. I'd discovered Gregory through her 'Matthew Bartholomew' series set in Medieval Cambridge (the 13th in this series has recently been published). I was expecting more of the same with this installment but have to admit to being disappointed. The story seems incredibly slow and laborious and doesn't seem to go anywhere much of the time. I feel that perhaps Gregory was trying to include too many different plot lines and too many twists and turns. I did find my head ached at times trying to work out what was going on and which particular investigation Chaloner was working on at any one time. I appreciate that in the spying game you can't really trust anyone but perhaps this was somewhat overdone.

It's a shame because Gregory was using some fascinating historical bit and pieces as her backdrop. The fashion for watching dissections and the morality of this, the Catholic plot in Ireland, the work of a 17th century physician, the intrigues of the court at this date, the slave trade. They were all in there, for better or for worse. When you reach the end of the book there are several pages about the historical background of the book. I really felt that Gregory had picked up on a lot of good original sources when planning out this story but was too desperate to fit them all in.

The slow pace for much of the book coupled with the sheer volume of information that needed to be taken in are perhaps my biggest criticisms. The characters on the whole were believable and Gregory uses a good range. From the jealous May whose out to destroy Chaloner, to the larger than life Silence Webb, they are all there. I didn't feel the book patronised me and generally there were definitely some great sections. This book needed re-working to really let those sections breathe and to make the pace a bit less like wading through treacle.

I would only recommend this book if you have enjoyed the first installment of the 'Chaloner' series as you will need to read it to continue with the series at all (it seems clear to me that several plot points in this book will be picked up in the next book).

*3 stars*

Other books by Susanna Gregory include:
*A Conspiracy of Violence: First book in the Thomas Chaloner series
*The Butcher of Smithfield: Third book in the Thomas Chaloner series
*The Westminster Poisoner: Fourth book in the Thomas Chaloner series

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Telling Tales by Ann Cleeves

Ten years ago the body of 15 year old Abigail Mantel was discovered by her best friend Emma Winter. Now the woman jailed for her murder is found dead in her cell and doubt is thrown on her conviction. Inspector Vera Stanhope is brought in to re-open the investigation and find out who really did kill Abigail? As this tale, told from the viewpoints of several characters unfolds, begins to unfold out comes all the little secrets being kept by members of this tiny Yorkshire village. Just who is hiding what?

I must admit I avoid non-historical crime fiction as a rule. I tend not be interested in reading about the here and now. The reason I read this book was that its the book we've been given to read at the reading group I belong to.

Despite the fact I don't usually read books like this I found it easy to read and quite enjoyed it. There were plenty of twists and turns, blinds and tasty secrets unrelated to the case. It was well constructed and kept my interest throughout. So much so in fact that I polished this book off in a day. I have to even admit that the person who turned out to be the murderer was one of the people I hadn't fingered for it in the course of reading!

It did take me a little while to get used to the constant change in perspective. Sometimes the story is being told by Emma Bennett (nee Winter), sometimes by Michael Long (father of the accused), and even sometimes by Vera Stanhope (the investigating officer). I don't usually like this style but Cleeves some how prevents it from being clunky. Instead it adds extra dimensions to the story as it unfolds. It also tries to deal with the emotions and aftermath of such situations which many crime dramas I watch on TV fail to do, such as Michael Long's reaction to his daughter's conviction. The relationship between Emma and James Bennett is also very interesting and makes you realise that there are many different types of marital relationships out there.

The story was easy to get into and didn't overwhelm the reader with endless description. The story moves at a good pace and I didn't find it patronising or overly simplistic. It certainly felt like a gentle introduction to the modern crime fiction genre.

I would recommend this to anyone who like me has not taken the leap into modern crime fiction or crime fiction full stop. Hardened crime enthusiasts may find this book a little too gentle.

*3 stars*

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saturnalia by Lindsey Davis

This is the 18th book (yes, I know can hardly believe it myself!) in the Didius Falco series by Lindsey Davis. If you haven't picked up a Falco book yet, go do so now! The first in the series is the Silver Pigs, but they're all worth a read. There are probably going to be spoilers ahead if you haven't read any of the other books so be warned!

It's Saturnalia (Roman equivalent of Christmas) and everyone is in party mood. However amid the merriment a dangerous enemy of the state has escaped from house arrest and Didius Falco, informer has been charged with the task of finding her. Not only has she escaped but she also seems to have murdered a member of a high ranking family during her escape. At the same time his brother in law goes missing after a marital spat over said escaped felon. Added to that Falco has a group of soldiers working undercover to assist him, but they seem more interested in celebrating the holidays than helping out. Juggling his wife Helena, his two children and extended family with the investigation Falco finds, as usual, life is never quiet.

As soon as I started reading this book I relaxed. I love Davis' style and find it comfortable and easy going. It's like slipping on your favourite pair of shoes or an old jumper. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it came alone at just the time I needed a bit of comfort reading! Her characters are so beautifully created, from Falco's no nonsense mother to the beautiful, intelligent Helena who keeps Falco in line. You feel as if you could know some of the characters in your own life! There are definitely characteristics that transcend the centuries, like the way the soldiers try to avoid work or how Helena's parents acted when she and her brothers were little. There are some incredibly funny moments that showcase Davis' skill. She manages to mix humour, romance, violence, crime and mystery into one coherent story. You never feel that what you're reading is irrelevant to the plot.

It should also be added that Davis has researched her historical period well and is pretty accurate.

I seriously would advise that you read the series of Falco books from the start. A lot of the characters will only make sense if you have read the previous books, despite Davis' attempts to remind the reader the history behind each aspect of the story. It also helps you to appreciate the Roman way of life. I have an interest in Roman Britain and the Romans in general so I came to these books with a certain amount of background knowledge. I find that reading these books had brought the subject to life and made me understand how each piece I'd looked at fitted into the whole. Although human nature rarely changes the way the day is structured, the politics and the institutions differ so much and they are so intertwined with the plot in these books that Davis does well to explain them to those who don't know about it.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to all Falco fans, Davis is back on form. I would advise the entire series to anyone who likes TV programmes like The Last Detective or who likes a crime fighter with a life beyond work.

For more information about Lindsey Davis and the Falco books visit her official website.

*4 stars*