Monthly Archives: August 2008

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

The ‘Blurb’
Innovative in style, its humour by turns punchy and tender, Oranges are not the only fruit is a few days ride into the bizarre outposts of religious excess and human obsession. It’s a love story too.

This is a semi-autobiographical novel, loosely based on Winterson’s childhood/teenage years.

Jeanette’s mother has a “mysterious attitude towards the begetting of children; it wasn’t that she couldn’t do it, more that she didn’t want to do it. She was very bitter about the Virgin Mary getting in first…”

This is a novel about religion and sexual awakening. The story deals with Jeanette’s feelings of confusion over her love for God and the conflict between that, and her developing feelings towards females. Her mother, a staunch evangelist, doesn’t like sex, in any of its forms and so when she discovers her daughter’s attraction to the same sex, she and the church decide action must be taken to stamp it out.

This book, which won the Whitbread Award for a First Novel in 1985, is both funny and poignant and was an enjoyable read.

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The ‘Blurb’
Pride and Prejudice, which opens with one of the most famous sentences in English literature, is an ironic novel of manners. In it the garrulous and empty-headed Mrs Bennet has only one aim – that of finding a good match for each of her five daughters. In this she is mocked by the witty cynicisms of her indolent husband.

One of her daughters, Elizabeth, becomes prejudiced against her future suitor Darcy, because of his arrogance and uncalled-for interference with his friend Bingley’s courtship of her sister Jane. In spite of this, Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth – a blow to his pride – proposes, but is rejected. However, his sensitive assistance when Lydia Bennet elopes, dissolves Elizabeth’s prejudices, and the two are reconciled.

Oh wow. I can’t believe just how my feelings for this book turned round. I went from feeling so indifferent to it at the start that I kept finding excuses not to read it to wanting to read it slowly in order to make it last.

I wanted to slap some of the female characters hard to start with. My head could tell me that the ladies would have behaved that way in 1813 when the novel was first published, but my heart couldn’t stand the way they were so pathetic! However, I soon got over that and warmed to them.

I especially loved the characters of Lizzy, Mr Darcy (despite never having seen P&P on the TV, I still pictured Darcy as Colin Firth – which is no bad thing!) and Mr Bennet. Oh, and Jane.

I wanted to slap Lydia for being so selfish, and give Mrs Bennet a damn good shake by the shoulders for being such an embarrassment.

It had humour in spades. It was sad too. Mr Bennet being trapped in such a loveless marriage was a tragedy considering his lovable and amiable nature.

I have quite a few ‘favourite bits’, but I think the one that stands out for me was where Jane stood up to Lady Catherine when she came to dissuade Elizabeth from having a relationship with Darcy – this bit showed just how strong the character of Lizzy really was.

As a ‘modern’ woman, it seems very strange to me how society worked back then. For Charlotte to marry someone after only knowing them for such a short time to secure a future for herself seems very alien!

I don’t think a book has caused so many different emotions in me for a long, long time. After feelings of total indifference I simply grew to love this book.

10/10

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No Time for Goodbye – Linwood Barclay

Synopsis from Amazon
On the morning she will never forget, suburban teenager Cynthia Archer awakes with a nasty hangover and a feeling she is going to have an even nastier confrontation with her mom and dad. But when she leaves her bedroom, she discovers the house is empty, with no sign of her parents or younger brother Todd. In the blink of an eye, without any explanation, her family has simply disappeared. Twenty-five years later Cynthia is still haunted by unanswered questions. Were her family murdered? If so, why was she spared? And if they’re alive, why did they abandon her in such a cruel way? Now married with a daughter of her own, Cynthia fears that her new family will be taken from her just as her first one was. And so she agrees to take part in a TV documentary revisiting the case, in the hope that somebody somewhere will remember something – or even that her father, mother or brother might finally reach out to her… Then a letter arrives which makes no sense and yet chills Cynthia to the core. And soon she begins to realise that stirring up the past could be the worst mistake she has ever made…

My thoughts:

Brilliant! A excellent thriller that I finished in 3 days. So many twists and turns that apart from one character I really had no idea how the book would end! Very well written and you can imagine what it must have been like for the Cynthia, the daughter.

I would definately recommend this book. 10/10

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The Making of Star Wars by JW Rinzler

“Star Wars” was released in 1977 and went on to earn almost $775 million at the worldwide box office. It would change film making forever. Published for the 30th anniversary of the original “Star Wars” movie, this is a must-have book for all “Star Wars” fans and movie lovers. Lavishly illustrated with hundreds of images spanning the creation of the film, and including previously unpublished interviews and stories, “The Making of Star Wars” is a piece of cinema history; and the story behind the making of this book is almost as intriguing. When author J.W. Rinzler heard that a similar book had been started back in the 1970s – around the time of filming – curiosity got the better of him. He was directed to four boxes within the vast Lucasfilm archive. He discovered that over fifty interviews had been conducted between 1975 and 1978 with key members of the cast and crew. These boxes had sat undisturbed for three decades. Until now. The interviews were fresh, candid and – above all – more accurate than many other reported accounts.

This book was sent to me as a review book, which puts me in a rather unique place. I am a fan of the films, I have them all on DVD, and I remember being fascinated when I watched a documentary concerning the making, the special effects etc. However, this isn’t the sort of book that I would usually buy for myself, and I certainly don’t call myself an expert.

With all this said, my initial reaction upon seeing the book was simply “wow” – it’s a large hardback, with a grand total of 357 pages. That feeling of awe remained as I flicked through the pages.. there are some fantastic photos and drawings, many of which are early versions of characters etc, who never made it to the film. Others, however, are very well known.. seeing an early drawing of Darth Vader had me grinning like a child!

There’s also a wealth of information within the book, most of which I haven’t had a chance to read yet. For some fans, they may wish to sit and read from cover to cover, but for me, the joy of this book is dipping in and out, reading a little at a time. Having not read any other books about the film, I have no idea how much of this is fresh information, but the publisher say that included is information from many previously unseen interviews.

If you’re a casual fan, wishing to take a deeper look at the history of the film, then this book must be highly recommended, it’s certainly something that I will be going back to again and again. Even at full price, as this is a book full of information and photos, and one that you will want to keep, it’s value for money.

If a dedicated fan, you can find more information about the content at the publishers site. Various reviews, however, from those with a deeper knowledge than myself, seem to believe that this is a premium book on the subject.

The cover looks fantastic, the photos inside look fantastic, and the content certainly appears impressive. For anyone with an interest in the film, I would urge you to buy it. :0)

Published by Random House
Version reviewed: Hardback, April 2007 £35.99 (online discount)
Also available in paperback, July 2008 £13.49 (online discount)

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The Carnival Master by Craig Russell

This was quite a mixed bag!  I didn’t realise that it was part of a series involving the same detective; it would perhaps be beneficial to read the prior books in the series, although this is by no means necessary in order to understand the plot.

The book is set in Cologne, where Hamburg Police Officer Jan Fabel has travelled in order to help the Cologne Police catch a serial killer – a man who attacks women during ‘Karneval’ an annual celebration when everyone lets their hair down, goes a little crazy and becomes someone else.  This killer has a curious predilection for the taste of human flesh, and is extremely dangerous, but a city in organised chaos is not an easy place to find him.

Unknown to Jan, a colleague of his, Maria Klee, has also travelled to Cologne in order to settle an old score with a hated enemy (the background to this is obviously contained in one of the earlier books, but it is easy to understand enough of what had happened for this part of the book to make sense).

A third party is also travelling to Cologne – a Ukranian team led by a Special Forces Commander, whose intention it is to take down a ruthlessly cruel crime boss.

Inevitably, all three threads of the story, which start out quite separately, converge.

There was a lot to enjoy in this book – several twists and turns, with many genuine surprises.  The plotting was very clever, and I would be interested to read prior books by this author.  I did feel that it may have benefited from being perhaps a third shorter, but that is a minor gripe.  Overall, an enjoyable book, which I would particularly recommend to fans of Dean Koontz and other similar writers.

Published by Hutchinson (Random House)
Hardback 07/08/08 £12.99

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Blog Give Away – Star Gazing by Linda Gillard

Ok, not a review, but I thought I’d make a post, for those of you who have us in your RSS readers. :)

We are able to offer 3 signed copies of Linda Gillard’s fabulous Star Gazing – all info here.

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Dolman by Victoria David

Dolman is set to a background of concern over climate changes, with a Government who believe that we are rapidly heading for disaster. With this in mind, they are secretly running two projects.. the first is to design underwater cities to live in, and the second is to design a genetically modified human, capable of living underwater.

There is a theory that humans and dolphins share a genetic past, and so this becomes the animal of choice for the resultant hybrids. Sebastian James, a genius geneticist, is the chosen scientist for this particular project. He is completely obsessed with his work, and is disliked by most people who come across him.

The book, however, starts away from these projects, and is set in Scotland. The first four chapters introduce us to some great characters, and their relationships, and I felt immediately pulled into their lives. We catch glimpses of the projects, as they do, but the emphasis is on the characters.

Chapter five takes us back to 1990, where we start to learn more about the projects – it has a different feel to the first chapters, but once again pulled me straight in. Victoria has a descriptive style, which pulls the reader into the day to day happenings, and she also writes some very believable and likable characters.

This is definitely the part where the story falls into the ‘Science Fiction’ category, and my main criticism is there’s a point when one of the character’s actions seem a little rushed and unbelievable. Once past that part, however, the story picks up again. If the book was set a few years in the future, this part may have worked better.

That aside, Victoria has some great ideas, which on the whole, she’s able to carry off well. The hybrids become totally believable, along with the underwater world they live in. Ariel in particular has a wonderful character, and provided some emotional moments.

For me, the strength of this book is the way Victoria writes her characters, their intertwining stories, and the way they relate to each other. There is a lot going on, it’s a hard book to put down, and will certainly keep you thinking after you finish.

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The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Baeurmeister

From the back cover ~~
The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight people from different walks of life who gather every Monday night for a cooking class taught by Lillian, a famous chef whole alchemy in the kitchen has made her a local sensation. It soon becomes clear, however, that each student – including a teenage waitress, a young mother, a widower, and a long-married couple – comes seeking a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. One by one they are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of what they create, including a white-on-white cake that prompts wistful reflections on the sweet fragility of marriage and a peppery heirloom tomato sauce that seems to spark one romance but end another. Slowly, the essence of Lillian’s cooking appears to expand beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of her students’ lives, with results that are utterly surprising, and often delicious.

What a wonderful book!! Over the course of several months eight students gather every Mondy at Lillian’s restaurant for cooking class. But these are no ordinary lessons. While Lillian does “teach” her students how to make each meal, the lessons come from how they react to the food, the memories that they invoke and the feelings that they inspire. Each section of the book is told from the perspective of a student, going back and forth between the past and what brought them to the class and the present and the food that they are creating. The writing is incredibly descriptive. The author does an amazing job of bringing you into the book with her. She has such a way of describing things in such detail that you feel as if you’re right there with her kneading the dough, shelling a crab or tasting the tiramasu as it melts in your mouth. A++
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A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

Synopsis:

In the class of her host, a high school English teacher she has been haunting, Helen feels them, for the first time in 130 years, human eyes are looking at her. They belong to a boy, a boy who has not seemed remarkable until now. And Helen terrified, but intrigued and is drawn to him. The fact that he is in a body and she is not, presents this unlikely couple with their first challenge but as the lovers struggle to find a way to be together, they begin to discover the secrets of their former lives and of the young people they come to possess.

I read about ‘A Certain Slant of Light’ on Amazon and was very intrigued by the story, so I ordered it and I am so glad I did.‘A Certain Slant of Light’ tells the story of Helen who has been Light for 130 years, she attaches herself to hosts, the living, who are known as the Quick, as you read the story you find out that Helen has had numerous hosts, people who she has helped in some shape or form, they can not heard her or see her but they do feel her influence.

Helen’s world is changed when she realises that she has been seen, a Quick can see her, a boy in the class of her host, a teacher in High School, can see her and so their amazing story begins.

‘A Certain Slant of Light’ is a glorious book, the story is brilliantly written, there is a gorgeous feel to this book, the characters are engrossing especially Helen, a woman who is still haunted by her former life, the fear of drifting from the host and facing the truth of the person she was.

Anyone who reads the book will love the characters, you will experience something very different from most books, you hope that everything works out for them, even after the last page, this book will stay in your head.

A brilliantly written book with a lovely ending. The only downside was, the story was not long enough, I did not want the book to end.

If you get the opportunity, read this book.

Rating: 10/10
Reviewed by: Paula (Gyre/Heen)

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The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

I started this book this afternoon, and finished it this evening. This is the first Alan Bennett book I have read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here is the Amazon synopsis for The Uncommon Reader:

The Uncommon Reader is none other than HM the Queen who drifts accidentally into reading when her corgis stray into a mobile library parked at Buckingham Palace. She reads widely (J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, Ivy Compton Burnett, and the classics) and intelligently. Her reading naturally changes her world view and her relationship with people such as the oleaginous prime minister and his repellent advisers. She comes to question the prescribed order of the world, and loses patience with much that she has to do. In short, her reading is subversive. The consequence is, of course, surprising, mildly shocking and very funny.

I really enjoyed this book. I think Bennett looks at the Queen from a different point of view, like an ordinary person with a great passion, reading. He takes the time to assess how this would change her attitude and her priorities. I found myself relating to her (the Queen, I know!) as she faced people who don’t like reading and understanding how she felt when she believed jobs boring in comparison to reading.

I like how Bennett portrayed all the characters, to the common kitchen boy to the pompous prime minister and I just loved the way he assesses books and what they mean to us e.g. how they can be an extension of ourselves.

As an avid reader I found myself getting cross with people who found the books a problem, and I liked that. I enjoy a book where I get emotionally involved, and this is a book where that happened.

There were times when what I read was a tad boring, but that may be the fault of my ignorance in terms of certain books he mentioned.

A good book and a quick, enjoyable read.

8/10

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