Saturday, 26 November 2011

Mondays Are Red

Mondays Are Red by Nicola Morgan (Kindle edition)

I got this sent for free when I bought some of Nicola's other books as Christmas presents for my sons. Read it on my journey to and from London last week - it was the perfect length.

Teeange Luke comes round from a coma and finds he has synaesthesia - his senses are muddled so that he hears colours and smells sounds, etc. There's a demon lurking in his brain which makes him do bad things; there's also a beautiful girl with cinnamon skin and 'hair as long as the sound of honey' who may or may not be a figment of Luke's imagination. He wants nothing more than to regain his strength, particularly in his bad leg, so he can run in school sports day. The demon has other ideas. Luke's sister is in trouble - stalked in Luke's head by a sinister man in a metal mask, then captured for real by a perverted man who stalks the nearby woods. Luke has to battle both real and imagined foes to save her.

This book has been taught in schools and I can see why. It's a wonderful example of what can be done with language - words stay simple while phrase and simile soar with beauty. Writing from the POV of a character with synaesthesia gives the author unlimited scope for describing things in wholly new ways, and Nicola has done just that. The imagery melts on your tongue like the colour of birdsong.

(I only once experienced the joy of muddled senses, whilst, ahem, 'under the influence' many years ago. I listened to Duran Duran's Save A Prayer, and saw that the song was a rich velvety chocolate brown.)

Monday, 21 November 2011

Home for Christmas

Home for Christmas by Cally Taylor

Cally's second book, and it's a romantic comedy corker.

Beth works in a quirky independent cinema in Brighton (closely based on the real life Duke of York's cinema, which was a favourite haunt of mine when I was a student in Brighton back in the dark ages). Her boyfriend dumps her, right when she was on the point of telling him she loved him. A large cinema chain are trying to take over the Picturebox, led by handsome Matt. Beth falls for Matt, Matt falls for Beth, but circumstances keep getting in the way, and poor Beth has to go through several tortuously embarrassing situations before everything works out happily.

The novel is genuinely funny in places, and had me blinking back the tears in other places. The prose is as sparkly as the cover. I raced through this one. It's exactly what you expect from a chick lit rom com book, and I can highly recommend it.

Friday, 18 November 2011


Snowdrops by AD Miller

This was one of hubby's books - he thought he was buying a thriller then was mystified by this book and suggested I'd like it more than he did. But he did finish the book, and he doesn't finish books he doesn't like, so the combination of him saying he didn't like it but actually finishing it, made me curious.

Well, I really enjoyed it and raced through it. It's a pretty short book (250 pages) and it takes 150 pages before you really get what's going on. Before then, well stuff was happening but it was hard to say what the plot was or what the book was about.

Nicholas is an ex-pat late-thirties corporate lawyer living in Moscow. The book is written as a confession to his soon-to-be wife, who we never meet, after his return to England. In Moscow, he'd met a couple of Russian girls - sisters, they told him. He started an affair with one of them, and got sucked into a scheme they had to 'help' an elderly friend move to a new apartment block on the edge of the city. Meanwhile at work, he's involved in a plan to build an oil terminal in the north of Russia - he handles moving the money around from the banks who are investing in the project.

As I said, pages and pages go by with not a huge amount happening, but the book is so well written and evokes Moscow so well, you keep turning the pages. Gradually you realise that nothing is quite what it seems; everyone and everything in Moscow is corrupt; and Nicholas himself is either an unreliable narrator or terribly naive and pretty stupid.

I found the ending very satisfying. The book leaves you with an urge never to visit Moscow as long as you live, and a deep dislike for Nicholas, but for a writer to be able to keep you reading and unable to put the book down despite your negative feelings for both setting and character is quite an achievement.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A Collector of Hearts

A Collector of Hearts by Sally Quilford

Second book read on my Kindle! This book was previously published as a My Weekly pocket novel. It romps along in Sally's excellent bouncy style, and is hard to put down.

Caroline is companion to retired actress Mrs Oakengate. When they attend a Halloween house party strange things start to happen, and Caroline is haunted by the ghost (or is it?) of Cassandra, a witch who collected her lovers' hearts in a jar. Nothing is quite what it seems, least of all the sexy last-minute arrival Blake Laurenson who Caroline finds herself falling in love with.

I think Kindles are perfect for novellas and short story anthologies, and all those hard to publish formats. I'll definitely read more of this kind of thing - in fact I've another of Sally's already downloaded.

A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

First book I read on my Kindle! The link above is to a free Kindle edition. I've read lots of classics over the years but very little Dickens. This was one I felt I should read. It's a great story, of love and loyalty, but I must admit I skim-read some of the longer descriptive passages to get back to the action. I didn't really get on with Dickens' style, though I loved the occasional flashes of humour and the characters are very strongly drawn. It's not the Victorian-ness of Dickens - I'm a huge fan of his contemporary, Wilkie Collins.

Anyway, have read it now and on the whole enjoyed it.

The Damnation of John Donellan

The Damnation of John Donellan by Elizabeth Cooke

I first heard about this when reading the flyer for the Wimborne Literary Festival and knew the book was right up my street. Stupidly I bought it before the festival rather than waiting and getting a signed copy.

It's a kind of Georgian Suspicions of Mr Whicher, and is completely brilliant. I loved every minute of it - from the well-researched backgrounds of all the characters, to the extracts from the trial transcripts.

John Donellan married up, into the landed Boughton family. The current baronet was one Theodosius Boughton, who was 20 and syphilitic. One morning his mother stood over him while he drank a draught of medicine: within an hour he was dead, apparently of poisoning. His brother-in-law, John Donellan, got the blame and hung for it. The case was notorious at the time, and makes fascinating reading now. It was all handled so badly by so many people.

Donellan was accused of poisoning Theodosius with arsenic yet the whole case rested on his mother's testimony that the medicine smelt of almonds - which points to an entirely different poison. And no-one looked into Theodosius's history of epilepsy - the symptoms of a severe fit match the manner in which he died. The body was buried for several days in mid-summer before an autopsy was carried out, by which time it was too rotted to yield many clues as to cause of death. It's a catalogue of errors.

Did Donellan murder Theodosius? You can make up your own mind! I got the impression the author had decided he was innocent. I think - well - if he was murdered then Donellan was probably the murderer; but there's a strong possibility it was natural causes all along... or was it the mother? And what about the apothecary who was prescribing endless medicines to Theodosius?

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Stranger's Child

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst

Can't quite remember what enticed me to buy this one, but the hardback was sitting in my TBR pile for some time before I got round to reading it. Why do I buy hardbacks? They're so blinking heavy to read in bed and take up so much space on my bookcase. I suppose I buy them when I can't wait for the paperback, but in this case it was so long before I read it the paperback had come out! Have decided to buy no more hardbacks unless they're books by writing buddies.

Anyway. Having previously read The Line of Beauty I had an idea what I'd be getting with this latest Hollinghurst. Every male character seemed to be gay - mind you there's less gay sex in this one than in the last! Delightful prose - he's a master at natural sounding dialogue and this is a good book to read to learn how to handle writing multi-person conversations.

The book covers a time period of about 100 years. It starts just before the first world war, when Cecil Valance, a poet and heir to a large estate visits a middle class family. He's having an affair with the younger son, but writes a poem to the daughter, Daphne. When he dies during the war, the poem becomes adopted by the nation as an evocation of that idyllic pre-war time. Daphne goes on to marry Cecil's younger brother. Later in the century, a biographer tracks down Daphne to write Cecil's autobiography, and uncovers (or thinks he's uncovered) all sorts of secrets about the family. It's not an easy book to summarise, but is masterfully written and a joy to read.