Tuesday, 11 November 2014

October books

I seem to be falling into a pattern of a once-monthly update now. Oh dear.

In the Shadow of Deception by David Hough
A Cornish historical crime mystery by a prolific writer.

Policeman Pascoe Carne falls in love with a woman who has a secret, though she doesn't know what it is. As her past is uncovered it causes a rift between them...

I loved the characters here and the many twists and turns. I felt there were possibly a few too many plot elements and I lost sight of the main story at one point, but it kept me reading wanting to know how everything was going to be resolved.

Some Veil Did Fall by Kirsty Ferry
Timeslip novel told in two parts - first the contemporary story then the historical.

Becky puts on a historical costume for a photography shoot, and begins experiencing flashbacks, as does the photographer Jon with whom she is falling in love. They investigate the characters and uncover mysteries from the past.

I loved the setting here - Whitby during the Goths festival and also a country house hotel. Very atmospheric. I enjoyed the contemporary story more than the historical and felt the book would have been improved by alternating the chapters.

Beneath the Moon and the Stars by Amelia Thorne
Pen name for Holly Martin.
Joy Cartier moves into 'Britain's Friendliest Village' and finds it anything but. Hunk Finn MacKenzie lives next door and although there is immediate chemistry between them he seems to push her away unable to form a relationship. Joy has an unusual job of chainsaw carving - taking on commissions to create sculptures in woods, anonymously.

There are loads of twists and turns in this very lively but rather unbelievable story. I absolutely loved it although i did have to suspend disbelief on many occasions. The power of the writing kept me going, and the originality of the plot.

Room In Your Heart by Wendy Clarke
A delightful collection of warm, life-affirming stories all previously published in People's Friend.

Summit 8000 by Andrew Lock
Birthday present from a friend. Andrew is the only Australian to have climbed all of the world's 8000-metre peaks, This is the story of all those climbs and the unsuccessful attempts along the way. It's an exciting read if you love mountain adventure books, but so sad, as there are many little epilogues telling of the fate of people he climbed with along the way.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Catching up

Seem to be a bit behind here, having read a number of books lately and not written them up. All Kindle books.

First to Fall by Carys Jones 
A fellow Carina author. I bought the book when it was on promotion. Not my usual sort of thing but I'll try anything. It's set in the US even though Carys is a UK writer. A lawyer has moved to a small town, and he quickly gets caught up in a case where a young woman has murdered her husband. She's confessed, but there's something wrong here. Trouble is her husband was the town's footballing hero - everyone loved him but the lawyer comes to realise he was a wife-beater...

There's a great twist in this book and it kept me reading. Well written and enjoyable though some aspects of the book didn't ring true, perhaps because it was set in the US.

The Novel Writer's Toolshed by Della Galton
Brilliant little guide to writing novels, especially if you've come from a short story writing background. Concise and informative.

A Not Quite Perfect Christmas by Annie Lyons 
Using characters from her novel Not Quite Perfect, Carina author Annie Lyons has sent them to New York for Christmas. Enjoyable but short romp.

The Bookshop on the Corner by Rebecca Raisin
Another short book using characters introduced in other, longer novels, also from a Carina author. Sarah runs a bookshop and lives through the books she adores. Then a hunky journalist comes to town and her friends at the cafe across the road start pushing them into each others' arms... Fun easy read.

Regency Romance Collection by Christina Courtenay 
Three great little romances in one ebook. I really enjoyed these. They're predictable in the way that all such romances are - you know the main characters are going to end up together - but you don't know how they're going to get there or what obstacles will get in their way first. These books have all sorts of problems for our hero and heroine to overcome - from social ostracism to murder attempts - and they keep you reading.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Two books by mates

The trouble with being a writer is that I know lots of other writers and they write such a lot of very good books and I want to read them all. Have I whinged about that before on here? Very probably. Anyway, here are the latest two I've read.

The Last Dance by Sally Quilford 
Sally is probably the best writer I know at plotting. Her books twist and turn and keep you guessing and turning the pages or clicking the kindle buttons. This is the first of a series (yay!) featuring 1960s policewoman Bobbie Blandford. She's new to the job but in her small town posting still ends up helping solve a murder case. Great setting, very evocative of the era (I can tell loads of research was done on policing in the 1960s!) and some wonderful characters. And through it all, there's a great plot as usual.

The Good Guy's Guide to Getting the Girl by Peter Jones
I first heard chapter one of this a couple of years ago at a writers' conference, and read another chapter on Peter's website afterwards. The finally finished book is structured quite differently I think to what I read before though my memory is atrocious so that might not be the case.

Jason Smith is around 30 and in need of a good woman. He's a good guy, but has no idea how to go about finding and chatting up suitable women. Until he takes up glamour photography, after losing his nine-to-five job. This book follows his adventures, the various women he comes across, some of whom take their clothes off for him (for the photos!) all the while aided or not by his best mate Alex.

There were times I wanted to slap Jason and give him some advice - in the way I'd want to slap a male friend who behaved the way he did. That I think is the mark of a great character - one who begins to feel like he's a real mate of yours.

Warm and humorous and brilliantly written. I hope this is the first of many novels from Peter.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands by Natasha Solomons

Bought in Waitrose, as I have read her earlier two books and love her quirky style. Plus she's a local Dorset author!

Set mostly in the early 60s, Juliet is a young Jewish mother whose Hungarian refugee husband has deserted her. He just left, on her birthday, taking a portrait of her but leaving no explanation. No amount of searching for him by the local Jewish community throws up any trace as to where he has gone. Juliet needs to rebuild her life - and she does this by opening an art gallery. She has an eye for what's good and what's not, and it becomes a huge success. Along the way she acquires dozens more portraits of herself.

Eventually news comes that possibly her husband is in California, and Juliet goes there with her children in search of him...

I loved this book, just like Solomons' previous titles. Quirky, unusual, firmly rooted in its time period and community and with a heroine I won't forget quickly. As an 'aguna' (deserted wife) Juliet has no real identity in her community. That, I think, is why she felt the need to collect so many portraits of herself.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Two novellas

Gypsy Heart by Rosemary Smith

Read this on the way to London a couple of days ago.  Katharine is a well brought up young lady living with her aunt and uncle. On her 20th birthday she meets a gypsy, Kane, falls instantly in love and marries him secretly. Her aunt disapproves and won't allow her to see him. She needs to uncover the secrets of her birth before he can be accepted by her family.

A gentle, escapist tale. True love wins, and the twist ending is not much of a surprise. A pleasant way to pass a long train journey!

A Place of Peace by Sally Quilford

After the above book, I read this, on the same day. Sally's become a bit of an expert at writing romantic intrugue novellas. In this one, Nell goes to live in a house-swap on an island in New England, where she soon falls for the dishy police chief. She's escaping a scandal in England, but finds herself investigating another possible crime on the island.

A satisfying romance, an intriguing mystery and an unexpected ending - this was the perfect novella.

Monday, 25 August 2014

From Paris With Love

From Paris with Love by Samantha Tonge

This is the sequel to Sam's highly successful Doubting Abbey, and features the same mad woman, Gemma and her aristocratic boyfriend Edward. They're working for a month in Paris, learning more about the restaurant industry, as the plan is to save Edward's ancestral home by setting up a cookery school in it.

Then Gemma gets recruited by MI6 to try to uncover a potential threat to the royal family...

It's a wacky plot, but a really fun read, and is highly recommended for a bit of escapism.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Bring me Sunshine

Bring Me Sunshine by Charlie Connelly

Having read his guide to the shipping forecast and loving his style, I bought another couple of books by this author. This one's a guide to Britain's weather- the history of weather forecasting, biographies of the scientists and crackpots who've tried to understand or control the weather, and the author's own reminiscences and experiences of the great British weather.

Very enjoyable. There are a lot of characters described in this book - mostly obsessive Victorian scientists, who along the way invented the barometer, the Beaufort scale, the weather forecasts and various methods of collecting weather related data.

Excellent little book.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Moment Keeper

The Moment Keeper by Buffy Andrews

Another Carina author!  This is an unusual story of two girls, a generation apart. One is poor, brought up by her grandmother, bullied at school, with few friends. The other is rich, spoilt by her doting parents, popular at school. On the surface they have little in common, but the first girl, Sarah, who has killed herself, is the 'moment keeper' for the second, Olivia. It's Sarah's job to record the most important moments in Olivia's life. As she watches her grow and develop, Sarah finds they have more in common that was at first apparent.

A warm-hearted tale of love, which keeps you turning the pages. Possibly to my middle-aged English mind the values and preoccupations of the teenage American girls were a little hard to comprehend but it's an enjoyable tale nevertheless. 

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Dear Lizzie

Dear Lizzie by Annie Lyons

Annie's a fellow Carina author who I met at the RNA party in the summer. This is her second book published by Carina.

Lizzie's beloved sister Bea has just died of cancer, and Lizzie is bereft. She's estranged from the rest of her family, due to complex events which happened when she was a teenager. Bea was her only link and her only friend. Bea leaves her 12 letters, to read one a month for the year following her death. Each one contains a challenge designed to help Lizzie move on, become stronger, and build a better life for herself.

This is a really warm, tear-jerker of a novel. I can't count the number of times I needed to reach for a tissue. It's a wonderful exploration of human relationships in all sorts of ways, and I would highly recommend it.

Lady of Hay

Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

Ms Erskine is always recommended whenever someone mentions timeslip novels, and this is widely regarded as one of her best. I bought the 25th anniversary edition, which has an extra chapter at the end, covering what happened to the characters in those 25 years and with an extra twist or two. It's a whopper of a book - I bought the paperback but at over 800 pages think it would have been an easier read on my kindle.

It has a huge an complex plot. In the present day (well, mid 1980s) journalist Jo Clifford is experiencing regressions to a past life - that of Matilda, a lady from the 12th century. Jo's got trouble in her private life - the love of her life Nick has left her and is seeing someone else. Nick's brother Sam is a hypnotist, and can make Jo regress back to the 12th century and be Matilda for a while. He has her best interests at heart - or does he?

Matilda is married very young to a brute of a nobleman, and in her complex history has several children, consorts with Prince then King John, has a love affair with another man. She's a real character who actually existed at that time, and you can tell the author has done a lot of research.

I found the whole reincarnation thing a bit far-fetched, especially as Jo/Matilda isn't the only one in the book. Everyone seems to have been someone else from that time. I know you have to suspend disbelief when reading any book that has a supernatural element, but for me, this one pushed me a bit far without having an adequate explanation of why it was all happening and why these people were targeted as hosts by the long-dead historical characters. Having said that, I very much enjoyed this novel. Erskine is a superb story teller, and I loved the historical strand of the story.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Winter House

The Winter House by Dee Weaver

I came across this book in a Facebook group dedicated to historical and timeslip fiction. It sounded interesting so I bought it for Kindle ages ago but only just got round to reading it. So many books and so little time.

Maidservant Lily Brent was murdered in the house, over a century ago. Her ghost lives there still, despite the house having stood empty for 40 years. Fynn McColl, a property developer, has bought it, fallen in love with it, and wants to restore it to live in. But Lily sees the reincarnation of the man who murdered her in Fynn, and wants revenge. Meanwhile Georgia, a local vet, has also fallen in love with the house and then falls for Fynn too. She's sceptical about ghosts but as strange things happen in the house she has to revise her opinion, and quickly.

This book is really well written and edited, and was an enjoyable fast-paced read. I felt at the end things had become too weird, too many ghostly activities, and although you have to suspend disbelief when reading a ghost story, this book pushed that suspension a bit too far. I prefer subtler ghosts I think!

But for lovers of ghostly horror, this one is definitely recommended.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Humans

The Humans by Matt Haig

Saw the author tweet about this book and it looked good, so I bought it. Proof that marketing on Twitter does work.

Very quirky and enjoyable novel. The narrator is an unnamed alien, who has taken the form of maths professor Andrew Martin. He's been sent to stop the humans finding the proof to the Riemann Hypothesis (you don't need to know what that is) because if they do, it'll unlock all sorts of knowledge to them (us) and they (we) are not mature enough to handle it properly.

The alien is supposed to find out who knows what the prof discovered, and then kill them all including the prof's wife and son. Sounds bleak, doesn't it? But actually this book is funny and warm, and says a lot about what it means to be a human, as the alien gradually learns more about this odd species with its emotions and passions and desires.

A short book and highly recommended. If Dad had still been with us, I'd have passed my copy onto him, knowing he would love it.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Ghost House

The Ghost House by Helen Phifer 

I heard about this book at the RNA Summer Party, and briefly met the author there. The book appealed very much - timeslip, ghostly houses etc - as it's got elements in common with my novels. So I bought it after the party. I've since been offered a two-book deal from the same publisher so Helen and I are stablemates now, as it were!

I very much enjoyed this book. Annie Graham is a police community support officer, recovering from having been badly beaten by her abusive husband. She's looking after her brother's house, which is set in the grounds of a spooky deserted mansion. Something bad happened there a long time ago. Annie comes across an old diary, and also begins experiencing ghosts of the past. A girl's gone missing and to solve the current day problem, Annie must solve the mysteries of the past.

Really gripping book, with loads of suspense and twists and turns aplenty. Very much enjoyed it. It's one of a series featuring the same main character, so I'll definitely have to read the next one too.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Three short non-fiction ebooks I got for free

These were all links to free promotions which I followed from Twitter or the KDP forums. I'm actually glad I didn't pay anything for any of them, as I wasn't particularly impressed. I think there are a lot of authors, mostly in the US, churning out very short non-fiction books. They give them a great title and cover, but the content isn't up to much.

3-Step e-book Ranking System by E. McNew
Can't provide a link as I can no longer find this on Amazon. It may be this one renamed or a taster of it. The author claimed the book would give you secret ways of improving your ebook rankings. She talks about colours of covers - what colours relate to different genres, and what would draw a browser in. I think the sections on each colour must be written in different colours, because on my basic black and white kindle some of this text was pale grey and hard to read. She talks about pen names and pricing. She mentions very briefly the need to edit and format your book and how to upload it to KDP. Then she talks about categorising your book - the essence of this section seems to be to find a small category and put it there, so you have more chance of hitting number one.

The psychology parts were a bit homespun to say the least. The sections on uploading and editing weren't anything much to do with the point of the book. Some of the stuff on categorising and picking keywords was interesting but is covered in more depth on the KDP help pages.

Short, badly formatted, poorly planned.

Author's Quick Guide to Editing your Book by Kristen Eckstein
Needed an edit itself. Several typos in this book, which is unfortunate given its subject matter, and not really acceptable given its brief length. The book talks about whether you should employ a ghost writer (really?), a structural editor or a copy editor. There's a very brief section on making sure you know the difference between affect and effect, compliment and complement etc, and how to use commas.  Part way through the author admits this book was written in a day, as part of a challenge to publish a book a week. It shows. it's one of a series of quick guides for authors but I won't be downloading any others, even if they're free.

Knee Pain Cure by Ace McCloud
This book wins an award for the longest ever subtitle which I can't be bothered to type out. I have dodgy knees so when I saw this one for free I downloaded it, hoping to pick up a few tips. It's mostly about dealing with and recovering from knee injuries. Arthritis is given a passing mention. There's a lot about possible surgeries to repair knees, and no real advice for coping with or minimising regular age-related wear and tear. So nothing in it for me, and again, another book which came across as poorly planned.

The Oyster Catcher

The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas 

This book won the RNA Joan Hessayon award 2014, which was presented at the RAN summer party I attended. So I had to read it, to see how it shaped up to other novels nominated for that award.

Fiona is jilted at the altar, after the vows but before signing the register. Her groom runs off with his best man. She runs off in the campervan they were supposed to honeymoon in, and finds herself on the west of Ireland, with a torn wedding dress, a crashed campervan, unsuitable shoes and no money. None of that is spoilers by the way - that's all given in a prologue. It's in Dooleybridge, a tired, small Irish town, that the novel begins. Fi finds herself a job helping on an oyster farm, with grumpy Sean Thornton, who has a hidden past of his own. Fi needs to get over her fear of water, accept the past and find herself a new future. And of course, she falls in love along the way...

I very much enjoyed this novel. What an unusual setting and background - I learned a lot about oyster farming along the way. The author clearly did her research! I love the west of Ireland so found myself feeling very much at home in this novel. I caught myself thinking about it whenever I wasn't reading it - and couldn't wait to get back to it each time. A real feel-good story with likeable characters and a wonderful sense of place. A well-deserved winner of the award, and it looks like it's doing very well on the Amazon charts as well.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

The Wish List

The Wish List by Della Galton

Wendy's trying to move on after a divorce, and discovers a wish list she'd written years before. Her friend helps her start achieving some of them, which involves going to a farm to cuddle a piglet... and the farmer's quite dishy.... you can see where this one's going!

The perfect little novella, lovely characters, an easy read and a feel-good ending. Perfect for reading on a train journey, as I did the other day.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Marlene and Sofia

Marlene and Sofia, a double love story by Pedro Barrento

(will add link once it's been published)

** I was sent an advance review copy of this book **

Having read this author's previous novel, The Prince and the Singularity, I knew I was in for an unusual and imaginative read with this one, and I wasn't disappointed.

The book begins with a marvellous piece of meta-fiction. The author has been given characters and settings for his next novel. Trouble is, they're not quite what he wanted, and it seems he's not at liberty to write his own book using them, anyway. He's got to bow down and do what the all-powerful literary guild tell him. 

But he gets on with writing his own book anyway, starting with the chapters the guild sent him (people with colourful pasts in an old folks home, taking virtual tours (and more!) of Lisbon) and moving on to the title characters, two very different but equally beautiful young ladies. 

There are a lot of characters in the early part of this book, but it all comes together soon, and from that point on it's hard to put the book down. The characters are brilliantly drawn, the writing style is simple and elegant, and the plot is intricate, layered and thoughtful.

Highly recommended. I really hope we see more from this author.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Diamonds and Dust

Diamonds and Dust: A Victorian murder mystery by Carol Hedges

Carol's a recent facebook and twitter friend, so I decided to check out her book, and liked the sound of it very much. I wasn't disappointed - this is a great read. It's told using an unusual omniscient narrator viewpoint - we swoop in on characters, watch them for a while, then swoop off somewhere else over the rooftops of grimy Victorian London.

A gruesome murder is the starting point - leaving Josephine King alone in the world but inheriting her uncle's fortune, and his secrets, which she must try to unravel. Detectives are also trying to find out who committed the murder, but the only clues are pointing them towards an answer which surely cannot be the right one...

Beautifully written, funny in places, full of wonderful characters including the minor ones, and absolutely well worth reading.

Monday, 19 May 2014

The Butterfly Collector

The Butterfly Collector by Adam Dickson

I know Adam from novelists' conferences, and attended a talk he gave at Poole library about this book. I'd already bought it for Kindle but decided to buy the paperback from him and get it signed (another one for my buddies bookshelf!)

It has a beautiful cover - self-published but Adam's son is a graphic designer and created such a gorgeous cover I believe it won an award somewhere. Well deserved.

The book is about property developed Peter Calliet who has it all, but wants more. He's strangely dissatisfied with his life, and frightened by the thought of settling down with his girlfriend who's assumed she'll move in, they'll marry and have kids etc. Peter's a womaniser - a collector of pretty women - hence the title of the novel. He has a dark secret which haunts him. He meets enigmatic Natalie and becomes obsessed by her - chasing her no matter what the cost to his comfortable life.

This is an unusual book in that it primarily explores relationships and emotions, which is more normal for a book about a woman written by a woman. Adam's managed to do a man's version. It's deep and introspective, and while there's not much action there is a lot of development of characters and relationships throughout. It's beautifully written and an intriguing read.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Ghostly Father

The Ghostly Father by Sue Barnard

Sue bought my two How To books direct from me, and I felt I should repay the compliment and check out her book. Really glad I did, as I loved this book - couldn't put it down!

Juliet Roberts is translating an ancient Italian manuscript for her aged grandfather. It's the well known tale of Romeo and Juliet, but told in first person from the point of view of Friar Lorenzo. But there's an unexpected twist - something happens which is not in Shakespeare's version - and a very different outcome...

I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book. Very unusual, and a far more satisfying ending than Shakespeare gave. The characters were excellently portrayed and really came to life.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I bought this from the Bronte museum in Haworth while on holiday there just before Easter. I last read it while I was a student, and bought this copy because I knew I had to wait in a car for a while later that day and had come without my Kindle or other reading material! Disaster! Anyway it was so long since I read it or saw a dramatisation of it that I thought I might as well re-read. The edition I bought had reasonably sized print as well (I'd also forgotten my specs).

What struck me is the way the story is told. I'd forgotten it is all told at second hand or even third hand. You start with Mr Lockwood, and he tells of his night at Wuthering Heights and the spectre of Cathy appearing at the window. Then Nelly Dean picks up the tale and recounts Cathy and Heathcliff's childhood onwards. At times she is reporting what someone else, eg the housekeeper Zillah, told her. It can all be several times removed.

Would anyone publish a book written like this today? Writers are generally advised to think whose story is it (in this case, Heathcliff's) and write from that point of view. Or mostly from that point of view. But Heathcliff is a pretty awful character - cruel, mad, vindictive. Would we take to a story told from his immediate point of view? Maybe the story is Cathy's (first half) and then the young Cathy's (second half). But the older Cathy is not a particularly likeable character either.

Anyway, all that aside, this book is a masterpiece at creating atmosphere and making the setting a character in its own right. Those moors, and that dark brooding house. And it does have a happy ending. Not my favourite Bronte but worth reading if you never have.

Three little writerly non-fiction books

Sell Your Books! A Book Promotion Handbook for the Self-Published or Indie Author by Debbie Young

I bought this months ago for my kindle then it got buried under other purchases, and I have only just read it. A great little book, full of very good advice on how to market your book, either digitally via blogs, facebook, twitter, goodreads etc or in the real world via radio interviews, bookshop appearances etc. I'm ok in the digital world but far too terrified to go out into the real world with my books in my sweaty little paws. But it's good to read about how I ought to do it, and I would recommend this book to anyone who is self-published.

The Business of Writing: Part One: Business Start-Up by Elizabeth Ducie

This is a great idea for a book - writers need to treat what they do as a business and be serious about it, especially if they intend giving up the day job and making their living from writing. And at only 77p it certainly seemed worth the pennies.
However it is a very short book which skims over the subject, and reads rather as though it is the introductory chapter to a longer book. It hints at rather than explains all the considerations a new business start-up brings. I found my appetite whetted but not not satisfied.
It'll be interesting to see what subsequent books in this series are like.

Tweet Right - The Sensible Person's Guide to Twitter by Nicola Morgan

I bought this ages ago when it first came out, but hadn't joined Twitter then, so I only read the beginning chapter at that point. I've now bitten the bullet and signed up, so thought I'd better find out how I ought to be using it. This is a wonderful little book, which makes you feel like the new kid in school who's been allocated a helper to show you round and make sure you know where the toilets are and everything, and that helper is lovely and friendly and very knowledgeable. I found it really useful, have set a few bookmarks in it, and now need to go to Twitter and follow up all the leads.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Taunting the Dead

Taunting the Dead by Mel Sherratt 

Although I'd been aware of Mel's name as a successful self-published author I hadn't read any of her books - thrillers are not my cup of tea. But when she was snapped up by a top agent, and her books republished, and the Kindle price was (briefly) set very low, I thought it time I gave her a go.

This book is set in Stoke on Trent, on a rough estate. Steph Ryder, wife of local hard-man turned successful businessman, gets her head bashed in after a night in the pub with her friend. Detective Allie Shenton investigates, starting with people closest to Steph. There are some pretty nasty characters in this book - in fact there wasn't a single one I liked much. Allie herself is mostly likable but even she made some choices and did some things which put me off her.

It's definitely a page-turner of a book, with lots happening, and the body count rises near the end as things come to a climax. It wasn't 100% satisfying as you knew (more or less) who'd killed Steph or at least who'd dealt the first blow, pretty early on. And as I said, the characters aren't likable so it's hard to care about them.

Having said that, I would think if you like gritty police procedurals, you'd enjoy this one too. Not sure it's for me but it kept my interest, I liked the twist at the very end, and I would try another from the same author (in fact there's another on my Kindle right now.)

Saturday, 19 April 2014

One Day

One Day by David Nicholls

Another book rescued from Mum's chucking-out, and which has had such a lot of press I felt I ought to read it. I enjoyed this one a lot.

Emma and Dexter have just graduated in 1988. They spent a night together, but then went their separate ways. The novel covers what happens to them over the next 20 years, but always as a snapshot of what they are doing on the same day each year. What a clever structure - the kind of thing you wish you'd thought of yourself, but now it's been done.

They're clearly made for each other but it takes them a long time to finally get together, although you know they must do eventually. In the meantime, they try and fail at different careers before finding their feet, have other relationships, make wrong choices. I found Dexter an unlikable character although he improves over time, but I could relate to Emma very much.

Not sure about the ending - it'd be a difficult novel to end well whatever the author decided to do, and I'm not 100% convinced this was the best ending for it.  But overall, and perhaps especially as the characters are my contemporaries (I graduated in 1987) I found the book very enjoyable.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling

Really enjoyed this book. It's a proper old fashioned detective novel. Cormoran Strike's a bit of a cliche - embittered private detective, down on his luck, sleeping in his office, gruff, scruffy, but good at his job if only he had some clients. The temping agency send him a young woman who's only supposed to be there a week but turns out to show proper initiative as well as tact. Strike's asked to reinvestigate the apparent suicide of a top model - her brother thinks it was murder. 

It's a long book, there's not a big pile up of bodies but lots of interviews with witnesses and gradually Strike pieces together what the police had missed. I really enjoyed it, couldn't put it down, and am very much hoping there'll be more books about this character.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

I'd been wanting to read this for a while as there was so much hype about the book and then the film. I have not seen the film. Mum was throwing out some books and this was among them so I thought I'd rescue it and read it.

So what did I think? Um, where to start and how to be nice about it. I didn't think a lot of it. I can't see what all the fuss was about.

So we're in Nazi Germany, and 9 year old Bruno is the son of a high-ranking Nazi who is sent to run Auschwitz. He befriends a Jewish boy who's on the other side of the fence around the camp, and sneaks off daily to talk with him through the fence. Then one day he crawls under the fence, dresses himself in a set of striped pyjamas his friend acquired for him, and finds himself rounded up and put in the gas chambers. Sorry, gave away the ending there.

This should be a powerful, tear-jerking story. Of course it's meant for children, but should still have the power to hit adults hard as well. But it's just so unbelievable. We're supposed to accept that Bruno doesn't know what a Jew is, and has no idea about the prison camps. He comes across as not naive - more like a simpleton. Yet he's able to sneak away from the house every day and no one wonders where he goes, and he and his friend are never spotted by guards when they're talking through the fence.

I remember as a young teen reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit - and that gave me a far better idea of what the Nazis did to the Jews than this book would give the current generation of kids. I thought it was twee, irritating, not credible, repetitive and poorly written. Sorry and all that.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Life After Life

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I've been a fan of Kate Atkinson since her debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I was waiting for this one to come out in paperback as I really wanted a physical book to keep but not a hardback. Finally it came out and I bought it in the supermarket.

I was not at all disappointed - it's a brilliant book, a cracking good read. The premise is - what if you could keep living your life over and over again, until you got it right? In the first few sections, Ursula is born during a snowstorm in 1910 and gets to various points in her childhood before dying. Gradually in subsequent lives she begins to have deja vu - she can remember being here before. She makes different choices each time and gets further along. Some choices are huge, eg fighting off the boy who raped her at 16. Some far smaller but still with a profound effect on her life. The London Blitz features heavily in some lives, eventually leading her to wondering what if Hitler was killed before he became Fuhrer, would there still have been such a terrible war?

I love Atkinson's style of writing - the way she drops in tiny snippets of backstory, often in brackets, remembered lines of dialogue. The reader remembers along with the character. She's a master of the tiny flashback. She's a master at showing how small actions by her MC can have big consequences, and knock-on effects on many other characters. And that's what this book's all about, really.

I absolutely loved it, and did not want it to end.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Accident

The Accident by C.L.Taylor

I was lucky enough to be sent a review copy of this book by the publisher.

This is a stunningly good psychological thriller. Sue’s daughter is in a coma, after having stepped in front of a bus. Sue’s convinced it was not an accident, but why would Charlotte want to take her own life? Sue finds a disturbing entry in Charlotte’s diary, and that sets her on the trail of finding out what was going on in her daughter’s life in the last few weeks before her accident. And in doing so, she has to confront demons from her own past.

The story alternates between Sue’s actions in the current day, and Sue’s own diary entries from 20 years earlier, when she was caught in an abusive relationship with charmer James. But how can those long ago event have any bearing on what happened to Charlotte? Sue is sure they do, even though everyone, including her husband, think she must be going mad.

Brilliantly paced, the tension builds throughout this novel to a dramatic conclusion. The author is better known for her funny, light rom-com novels, but I very much hope she writes more of this kind of thing. Tense, compelling, and thoroughly recommended. 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

River of Destiny

River of Destiny by Barbara Erskine

I'm a fan of time-slip novels and when I kept hearing this author's name as a top time-slip writer, I thought I'd better give her a go. This is a whopper of a novel, and I bought the print book rather than the ebook.

It's set in three time periods - contemporary, Victorian and Anglo-Saxon. The location is a sleepy Suffolk river, on the banks of which are a few converted barns. Zoe and her husband Ken have moved into one, to pursue their dream of a life outside London and all the sailing you could want. But their marriage isn't working as well as it should, and when Zoe meets their new neighbour, scarred blacksmith Leo, she realises what's been missing. There are ghosts appearing everywhere - a ghost Viking ship on the river and various apparitions in Zoe's barn. In the Victorian story the lady of the manor can't get pregnant by her husband so picks the local blacksmith to be her stud. And in the Anglo-Saxon era, another blacksmith is making a sword, the Destiny Maker, for his lord. There's conflict here between the new Christianity and the old religion - he's a Christian but the sword is to be made according to the old ways, and inscribed with magical runes...

Far too much story to do any kind of a synopsis here and I realise the above all sounds disjointed. But the story does hang together and it's a good read, if a bit overly long. In places it's a little repetitive, and it's definitely not a believable story, there are far too many ghosts appearing for that! But it's an enjoyable read.

Hope for Hannah

Hope for Hannah by Linda Mitchelmore

Lovely little novella I read on my Kindle on a long train journey the other day. Set on Dartmoor in 1903. Hannah meets dashing William Lawlor who is a painter, a sensitive soul she feels instantly at ease with. Then she meets his brother Ralph. The two men are the local nobility, set to soon inherit their uncle's quarry and estate. Both brothers want her, but for different reasons.

This was a delightful romance, possibly a bit predictable but enjoyable, and I particularly loved the setting and time period.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Catherine of Deepdale

Catherine of Deepdale by Millie Vigor

I met Millie, a truly inspirational woman, at a writing conference a few weeks ago. Her story was so incredible (began writing in her 70s, 3 book deal at age 84, now 87) I wanted to read one of her novels, and picked this one. It's based on a real person, though whether that real person is Millie herself or not I don't know. I'll ask her if or when I meet her again.

Catherine is a young bride in 1946, and goes with her husband Robbie to his family home - a croft in the Shetland islands. She had no idea how hard life can be on a croft, and when his mother doesn't hold back in showing her contempt for Catherine, she almost gives up and goes back south. But she decides to stay and battle it out. Tragedy strikes when Robbie drowns in a fishing accident, and shortly after Catherine finds she is pregnant. But she stays anyway, and builds up the croft the way Robbie had dreamt of. She's a feisty, strong heroine who came alive for me and who I really admired.

Overall the book is well written and really evokes the Shetland isles and all their weather. Sorry, Weather - it needs a capital letter. I've not been there though I have been to far north Scotland. It's a cosy read - one you need to curl up with by the fireside. Satisfying ending, if a little predictable. I very much enjoyed reading it.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Doctor's Daughter

The Doctor's Daughter by Sally Quilford

We're back in 1916 for this one - the first Peg Bradbourne mystery. A man is found dead, apparently suicide but there are some unexplained circumstances surrounding his death. Then suddenly Peg's own stepmother is found dead, and Peg finds herself promising her little half-sister that she will get to the truth. Are the deaths linked and if so, how?

The plot progresses with many twists and turns, typical for a Sally Quilford novel, and when the truth comes out it's not at all what you expect. The perfect novella to while away a few hours.

Sunday, 2 February 2014


Shadowman by Della Galton

Karen and Rob run a stable yard. They're in financial difficulties, and then someone starts sending anonymous letters accusing Rob of having affairs. Karen needs to find out whether they're true and who's sending them, as well as saving her marriage and their business.

This is a wonderful little book - the kind you can read in a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday, and it'll keep you totally engrossed. Lots of twists and turns and dead ends, as you're led first one way and then another wondering who dunnit. Highly recommended.

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared

The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

You just got to buy something with that title, haven't you? My friend recommended it to me. Swede Allan Karlsson climbs out of the window of his old folks' home to escape his 100th birthday party. He gets to the bus station, buys a ticket to somewhere random, and accidently steals a suitcase containing a large amount of money from a thug. The thug, of course, follows him on the next bus. And thus begin Allan's adventures.

Alternating chapters give Allan's back story. At 100 years old you'd expect him to have a lot of back story, but maybe not quite this much. In Forrest Gump style, he seems to have been present at many pivotal moments in history. He helped invent the Atom Bomb in 1940s US. Then he gave the secret away to the Soviets. He befriended several US presidents, had a young Kim Jong Il sit crying on his lap, and had a large amount of money given to him by Mao Tse-tung. As you do.

It's the most quirky of all quirky books. Told in a detached, amused voice, and maybe takes a little while to get used to the style, but in the end I couldn't put it down. Loved it. So unusual!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The War of the Wives

The War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen

Lent to me by my neighbour, who was interviewed by the author as part of the research for this book. Say no more!

Simon Busfield has been found dead in unusual circumstances, though the police initially assume it's a suicide. His wife Selina is at the funeral along with her teenage and adult children, when his other wife, Lottie turns up with her teenage daughter. Simon's been leading a double life - partly in London with Selina and partly in Dubai, later also London, with Lottie, for the last twenty years.

The story is told in alternating first person sections, from Selina and Lottie's POV. Each go through the classic stages of grief - denial, rage, depression, acceptance. As events unfold it seems Simon wasn't as wealthy as Selina at least assumed, and was involved in some shady business deals - could he have been murdered?

There are all sorts of twists and turns and plot developments in this book. It's beautifully written - the two women have very different voices. I was totally caught up in it and could not put it down. Definitely recommended.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Another catch-up

It's all going to pot on this blog, isn't it?

Here's what I've read and enjoyed in the last month.

His Brother's Keeper by Sally Quilford
Part 1 of a series, a supernatural thriller. There's a vigilante in a seaside town where an oil company are about to start fracking. Investigative journalist Rachel Cohen is sent to look into it and meets enigmatic local businessman Gabriel Henchard. As usual for a Sally Q novel, lots of twists and turns and it keeps you reading and guessing. The ending is open but a bit abrupt - definitely leaving the way open for a second or more books in the series.

Loving Protector by Sally Quilford
A Regency romance, which is doing brilliantly on the Amazon.com website. Calista meets the dashing Brook Windebank when he rescues her and her family from a highwayman. She falls in love with him, but doubts he has any interest in her. This book has all the ingredients of the regency period - balls, social niceties, an unpleasant stepsister - bit like a Cinderella retelling. Very readable and enjoyable. Sally has a knack of writing books in all genres which you just can't put down once you've started them.

4 little books on research techniques by Helen Kara
Helen's a friend who had published a major book on researching and evaluating the results of research. She's now published short extracts of these books as Kindle ebooks, and I skim-read them. Very useful for anyone who ever needs to do any market or social research - questionnaires, interviews etc.

So You'd Like to Open a Wool Shop by Kath Kilburn
I really wouldn't, but Kath's an online friend and I was interested in her experiences. This book is very readable, useful if you are considering starting a small business, and pretty amusing in places too, as Kath tells you how to avoid the mistakes she made.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
An agent I met last year, when asked what the next trend in publishing would be, commented that if something like Gone Girl ever landed on her desk she'd snap it up. So I had to read it!
This is a psychological thriller. Nick's perfect wife, Amy, has disappeared. The sitting room looks as though it's been made to look as though she was abducted. But the details aren't right, and the police (and reader) begin to suspect Nick of having possibly murdered Amy. The book is told from Nick's point of view, and interspersed with extracts from Amy's diary. But this is a masterpiece in unreliable narrators. Although at the start you like Nick then begin to distrust him, is he really guilty? Or is there more to it.... With more twists and turns than the road to Alpe d'Huez, this is a hugely enjoyable book and one which will stay with me for a long time.

A Merry Little Christmas by Julia Williams
One of two books by this author I won in the Authors for the Philippines auction. It's the second of a series about a set of families living in the village of Hope Christmas. The novel covers an eventful  year in their lives, in which one farmer has a major accident which alters his personality; a teenage girl gets pregnant; another extended family fight over which school a son goes to and who he should stay with at weekends. It's an enjoyable tale though I would recommend reading the other in the series, Last Christmas, first, so you know the characters.