Monthly Archives: November 2009

Girl In a Red Tunic by Alys Clare

In medieval 1193, while the King, Richard the Lionheart is held captive by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, many people in England find themselves short of food and provisions, due to the efforts made to raise the ransom for the King’s release.  In Hawkenlye Abbey, things are no different, and Abbess Helewise is struggling to make ends meet.  So she is delighted when her son Leofgar arrives for a visit with his wife Rohaise and their young son Timus.  However, it soon becomes clear that Leofgar and Rohaise are hiding something; Rohaise is terrified of her own shadow, and Timus barely speaks.  As the family stay at the Abbey, their states of mind improve and things seem to be getting better.  However, when a man is found hung, strung from a tree near to the Abbey, Leofgar, Rohaise and Timus leave the premises unannounced and are nowhere to be found.

Aided by her faithful friend, the Knight, Sir Josse D’Acquin, Helewise sets out to solve the mystery of the man’s hanging and her own son’s disappearance.  In doing so, she has to look into her own past, when she was a wife and mother to the handsome Ivo, and ask herself if her husband’s family were really the good people that she believed them to be.

This book is one of a series set around Abbey Hawkenlye, with the Abbess at it’s centre.  However, this was easy to read as a stand-alone novel, and I did not feel that lack of knowledge of the background of the characters hindered my reading at all.

The story moved along quickly, without ever feeling too rushed.  It is an undemanding read, which made it perfect for curling up with to relax.  The mystery at the heart of the story was intriguing enough to hold my interest throughout, and I found myself engrossed enough to consider reading the other books in the series.

The sense of the period in which the book was set was conveyed well, but this book was really more about the events which happened, rather than portraying life in the medieval period.  For instance, the situation with the captivity of Richard the Lionheart was mentioned only at the beginning of the story, and in no way really effected the events in the book.  I also enjoyed the parts where Helewise reminisced about her past – for readers of the whole series, I imagine this may have filled in a lot of gaps about the character’s life.

Having said that, the characterisation wasn’t brilliant.  Josse was extremely likeable and was probably my favourite character throughout the book.  However, there was little exploration of the other characters.  However, this did not detract from my enjoyment.

Overall then, this is a leisurely read, and I don’t believe that a special interest in the medieval period is necessary for this book to be enjoyed.  I would certainly read more by this author.

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The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver

Lincoln Rhyme is New York City’s best Criminalist, who has helped solve some of the most perplexing crimes that have been committed in the city.  He is also a quadraplegic, as the result of an accident at a crime scene, three years before; and has decided to kill himself.  But then the Police need his help.  Someone is committing brutal and seemingly random attacks in the city, and the only person who can solve the clues left behind is Rhyme.  However, Rhyme can’t walk the crime scenes himself, so he needs somebody to do it for him.  Amelia Sachs is working her last shift as a Patrol Officer, before she transfers into Public Affairs.  But the scene she stumbles across in the morning, leads her head-first into a new investigation, where she finds herself being the eyes and ears of Lincoln Rhyme…

This is the first novel in the Lincoln Rhyme series, and I felt that it did a great job of introducing the two main characters, Rhyme and Sachs.  The story itself had a lot of twists and turns, and there were some genuine surprises along the way.  I was never able to second guess what was going to happen, and the action moved along at a fast pace, making me want to keep reading.

As well as the main storyline, about Rhyme and his hastily assembled team trying to solve the case, the relationship between Rhyme and Sachs is explored, and as a result, I felt that I got to know the two characters well.

The other characters weren’t so well developed (with the exception of Rhyme’s aide Thom, who I adored), but that did not detract from the enjoyment of the book.  As this is the first in a series, there is presumably plenty of time to get to know the others.

I did feel that at times, the storyline about the kidnappings stretched credibility somewhat.  Rhyme is certainly supposed to be brilliant, but on occasions he seemed able to deduce something very specific from the vaguest of clues.  This is the course the character’s job, but it did feel slight unbelieveable.  However, there was enough excitement and intrigue in this book for me to forgive that minor niggle.

Overall, this is a cut above a lot of other crime based novels, and is very cleverly written.  (it’s very evident that Deaver has done his research with regards to forensic work and equipment).  A highly recommended read.

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The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman

‘The Boy who loved Anne Frank’ tells the story of Peter van pels, also known as Peter van Daan in ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ and what if he had survived the war. The story begins with Peter seeing a doctor because he has lost his voice, he does not understand why he has lost his voice but as the story progresses you find out why, as hard as he tries to forget, Peter cannot leave his time in annexe in the past, his experiences following his liberation. Peter struggles with himself, he hides his true self, he will not speak to his wife, as time goes on, the situation becomes worse for Peter, as ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ is released, then to the stage show and finally, the film, Peter begins to question his past, and begins to face it.
I had a lot of sympathy for Peter, he was so unhappy, angry, he misses his parents, in some ways he has lost his identify, at times, I wished that Peter would speak to his wife, tell her who he was.
I found this book to be very insightful, a lot of research has went into the reactions regards Anne’s diary, the questions raised towards Otto Frank, the family of Fritz Pfeffer, it showed that there is more to the members of the annexe, the lost of so many lives, the ripple effect of loss and the questions raised from it. I found at times the questions concerning Anne where slightly unfair, the people who complained and found problems seem to forget that she was a teenager in unusual circumstances.
Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Paula Mc (Gyre/Heen)

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By The Time You Read This by Lola Jaye

By the Time You Read This AW

Waterstones Synopsis:

This is my (Kevin Bates) manual for my daughter Lois. The love of my life. Rules of the manual: 1.You must only read each new entry on your birthday 2.This is a private manual between you and me. 3.No peeping at the next entry unless it’s your birthday! When Lois Bates is handed the manual, she can barely bring herself to read it as the pain of her dad’s death is still so raw.Yet soon Kevin’s advice is guiding her through every stage of her life — from jobs to first loves and relationships. The manual can never be a substitute for having her dad back, but through his words Lois learns to start living again, and finds that happiness is waiting round the corner !

I was attracted to this book by the cover – green with a pretty pattern and the title. The title reminded me of Elizabeth Noble’s Things I Want My Daughter’s to Know – and in fact this book sports a similar theme: it is communication left from a dead parent for the children. When Lois is five her Dad dies. Up until the age of twelve Lois knows nothing about The Manual her Dad has left. This Manual is a hand written book with an entry on every birthday up until her thirtieth birthday.

Although not a particularly original idea, it was a good read. What was different was the fact the Manual was written by the Dad not the Mum, which highlights a special bond between father and daughter. I think Jaye’s writing of the Manual was very good and I didn’t for one moment think that this was a woman writing as a man – she wrote the part of the father well. She encompassed all the things a Dad would say to his little girl as she grows up – such as hoping she hasn’t discovered men! I think the advice given was helpful to Lois, and the reader. It was fresh and wise.

The Manual consisted of many sections, and of course the note on every birthday. However, not all of the Manual was in the book. Jaye skipped out years and didn’t include all the Miscellaneous section. Although I can understand why she did this, I do think it is a shame as a lot of emphasis is placed on how she can only read the next year’s message on her birthday. It is only a 320 page book too, which meant a lot of her life was missed out/rushed too. We follow Lois from the age of twelve to the age of thirty in not very many pages – some of which are full of the Manual. I sometimes found myself a bit lost and wondering how old she is now. I also found that this meant the only people in the book I felt connected too were the Dad and Lois. There were some important other characters who featured throughout the entire book but I didn’t seem to know them as intimately as I would have liked.

I found I had several questions too, such as what happened between her Dad and his sister? Why was the Manual started at the age of twelve? I found some things unclear. The ending was a bit predictable, but it was a happy ending.

Having listed my complaints, I must say that I found this very readable. I read it in two sittings – the story flew off the page. I amcriticising the book like I am because I enjoyed the book and felt there could have been more in it to make it excellent. Although we didn’t know all the characters well I liked them, and I found myself cheering Lois on. This is chick-lit, and it is an easy read. To be honest I probablypreferred Things I Want My Daughters To Know, but I did enjoy this book and would recommend it.

8/10

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Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen by Joanna Denny

Anne Boleyn is one of the most famous Queens of England. Typically in literature she is described as the manipulative schemer who lured Henry VIII from his devoted wife Katharine of Aragon and later met her death on (probably trumped up) charges of Adultery, Incest and Treason.

In this book, Denny presents a different view of Anne, as a victim of Henry’s cold blooded-ness.  She asserts that Henry relentlessly pursued Anne, who resisted because of his marriage to Katharine.  Anne finally succumbed to Henry’s advances and was then cast aside when it no longer suited him to be married to her.

The book is written in a very ‘readable’ way.  I often find non-fiction to be somewhat dry; however this book flowed easily and held my interest throughout.

It has obviously been very well researched, and Denny is clearly a Boleyn enthusiast, with a lot of passion for her subject.  However, this is a double edged sword.  While I firmly believe that it is important for any biographer to really care about their subject, Denny’s own view means that this book is extremely biased.  Katharine of Aragon is described as a vicious, manipulative and unreasonable woman, who lied to fulfill her ambition to become Queen of England.  Anne is painted almost as a saint, who could do no wrong and was blameless in every respect.

Joanna Denny wrote this book to bring balance to the general view of Anne; however, she has not created balance but has merely tipped the scales all the way to the other side.  She claims that the critics of Anne are biased – and this may well be true – but unfortunately, Denny shows herself to be equally as biased.  The women in Anne’s world are portrayed as evil and two faced, with the exception of Elizabeth I, Anne’s daughter.

I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Anne or the Tudor period, but I do not think that this book is ‘the truth’ about Anne Boleyn, as the author claims.

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Lipstick and Loopholes in Tehran by Nahal Tajadod

Passeportaliranienne

Blurb from Amazon: A wry and humorous account of the author’s quest to get her Iranian passport renewed. She embarks on a bizarre and circuitous journey, meeting a colourful cast of characters along the way: two photographers who specialise in Islamic portraits, a forensic surgeon who trades in human organs, a madam who wants to send prostitutes to Dubai and a grandmother who offers a live chicken to an implacable official. LIPSTICK AND LOOPHOLES IN TEHRAN is a fascinating look at the constraints and contradictions of contemporary life in Tehran from the author’s unique standpoint of being both a native of Iran and a foreigner.

The view this book gives us of Iran certainly isn’t the one we typically get in the news, but it does remind me of some of the more ludicrous parts of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis series. It introduces us to the behind the scenes’ face of Iran so to speak; the story behind the islamically correct photo on the narrator’s passport for example: how the perfectly covering headscarf was adjusted by the male photographer she had met 5 minutes before, how that same photographer graciously offers makeup remover to his clients prior to the photo, and emergency mascara and lipstick afterwards… and how the final product goes through photoshop before being delivered. As we tag along on the author’s quest for a new passport we witness the absurdity of daily life under Iran’s Islamic regime. We also get a sense of the narrator’s difficult position, hiding her French passport and nationality from the authorities, leveraging her French connections to impress her interlocutors, and attempting to explain the Iranian system to her French husband, and ultimately feeling like a complete stranger in her native country, where her best friend acts as her guide.

So there is a lot to be learnt from this novel, but despite the above I found it very disappointing. For one thing, the passport quest is long winded and gets rather repetitive, as do the numerous descriptions of the tarof, the tradition by which Iranians will always refuse payment/ gifts/ invitations at first. But mostly I just couldn’t sympathise with the main character. She seemed to always be whining, fainting, acting against her better judgement and neglecting her daughter. Not that I expect or want book characters to be all nice and moral, but in this case she just got on my nerves.

I never thought that not ‘clicking’ with the main characters of a book could spoil it, but unfortunately it seems it does.

EDIT: This novel isn’t available in english yet (I read the original, french version) but according to Amazon it will be soon.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

a thousand splendid suns

Waterstones Synopsis:

Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter. When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move a person to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with a startling heroism.

I did not enjoy The Kite Runner so was apprehensive when I started this book. I didn’t need to be – I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is harrowing and disturbing and completely readable. Hosseini writes a good, moving story. With terrorism such a real issue in the 21st century I felt he is brave writing this book as it features not only the Soviets, but the Taliban and 9/11. This could be seen as acontroversial thing to do, but I felt Hosseini dealt with these horrors in a commendable way.

Hosseini writes some great characters. I felt something towards all of them. I felt for Mariam and what she faced in Herat before moving to Kabul, and my heart broke with Laila’s many times. And I did not like Rasheed – what a horrid man. I wanted him to be punished; he really sparked some anger in me – which I think is a sign of a good character and a well written book.

This book does contain a whole host of horrors, but not really ones I was expecting. War is prominent throughout the majority of the book, but it is not all Taliban based. The first half of the book sees the Soviets in Afghanistan. The horrors faced by the women mainly occurred at home at the hands of Rasheed as well. I felt that the blurb was a bit misleading in this respect. It is a bit of a disturbing read, but I found myself wanting to know what happened, and actually it didn’t take me long to read. I don’t think this book is for the weak hearted, but it is definitely up there with my other high-rated books. I think this story will stay with me for a long time.

9/10

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It’s the Little Things by Erica James

its the little things

Waterstones Synopsis:

Dan and Sally Oliver and their friend Chloe Hennessey are lucky to be alive. Three years on, after surviving one of the world’s biggest natural disasters – the Boxing Day tsunami – their lives have changed dramatically. Dan and Sally are now parents. Dan is enjoying being a stay-at-home father taking care of their young son, and Sally is the bread winner and loves her job as a partner in a Manchester law firm. The arrangement has so far worked well, but when Dan starts to question whether Sally has got her priorities right, the cracks in their marriage begin to appear. Dan and Sally have everything Chloe wishes for in life – a happy marriage and a beautiful child. Dumped by her long term boyfriend just weeks after the tsunami, she’s been on a mission ever since to find the perfect father for the child she craves. When she meets Seth Hawthorne, she thinks she may have hit the jackpot. But is Seth the man she thinks he is? IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS is a moving, compelling story of how a life can change in a heartbeat.

I am a big fan of Erica James, and this book was not a let down. We follow the lives of Chloe – a woman torturing herself over a decision she made years ago and Dan and Sally as their marriage starts on the slope to destruction. James writes some wonderful characters, and this book is no exception. It was easy to feel emotions towards to the characters – I really felt for Dan as he tried to work out Sally; I had empathy for Chloe as she struggled to fight her feelings for Seth; I gradually began to dislike Sally more and more and I fell in love with Seth!

The storyline is not particularly original, but it made for good reading. I found it interesting that a female writer wrote such a nasty female character – Sally was the bad person in this book nit Dan, and I found that a refreshing read. My only complaint with the story is that it implies in the blurb that the Tsunami would feature a lot in the book, and it doesn’t. There is the occasional mention of the nightmares they were having and the horrors of the event, but by and large it did not feature as much as I thought it would.

Like all other James novels I found this readable and enjoyable. It is a book of 430 pages, and I enjoyed each one. I liked how I had reactions to all the characters and I wanted to find out was happening. This book has left me satisfied. This is decent chick-lit, with twists I wasn’t expected. This is well worth reading.

9/10

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16 Lighthouse Road by Debbie Macomber

16 lighthouse road

Waterstones Synopsis:

Family court judge Olivia Lockhart has a failed marriage, a difficult relationship with her daughter, Justine, and a mother who has plenty of opinions and is always willing to share them. When Olivia denies a divorce in court, there is a frenzied reaction and, thanks to an article by Jack Griffin in the local paper,everyone’s talking about it. Cedar Cove – people love it and sometimes they leave it, but they never forget it!

This is the first book in the Cedar Cove series, and like the rest of Macomber’s work, I really enjoyed it. This is different to her other series: Blossom Street because Cedar Cove is a navy town and the story revolves around the whole community not just a street. I found this book a fun, quick read and I have already reserved the next two books in this series.

There are a whole host of new characters that I liked. Charlotte was probably my favourite – it made me laugh that she went to wakes with the hope of coming away with a new recipe! She seemed like a wise older woman and I liked how she managed to have a whole conversion with a stroke patient who had lost the ability to speech. The rest of the characters were likable too -Macomber writes strong female characters who are a pleasure to read about. The characters seem real – I can easily believe that these people could exist in real life.

Macomber writes a good story. She is amusing, gripping and exciting. I found myself reading huge chunks of the books in one go – I wanted to know what was going to happen. I liked howMacomber didn’t tie up all the story lines in this book, allowing for continuation in the series.

The issues in the book that Macomber focuses on are hard: being a navy wife, divorce and cot death. I think that Macomber was sensitive to these issues and dealt with them well. Maybe not everything was realistic in this book but I liked how she worked things out.

Overall, this was another great read by Macomber and I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.

9/10

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The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

the lost art of keeping secrets

Waterstones Synopsis

Set in the 1950s, in an England still recovering from the Second World War, THE LOST ART OF KEEPING SECRETS is the enchanting story of Penelope Wallace and her eccentric family at the start of therock’n’roll era. Penelope longs to be grown-up and to fall in love; but various rather inconvenient things keep getting in her way. Like her mother, a stunning but petulant beauty widowed at a tragically early age, her younger brother Inigo, currently incapable of concentrating on anything that isn’t Elvis Presley, a vast butcrumbling ancestral home, a severe shortage of cash, and her best friend Charlotte’s sardonic cousin Harry…

This is chick-literature set in the 1950s; and for me that worked. We get a look at life in England in the 1950s, just as rationing is coming to an end through the eyes of an eighteen-year old girl. I found this fascinating – looking at how people lived after the war, and how rationing and America influenced lives. I loved the history in this book – how Rice explores the generation born into the War; how they were worried about what life would be like without War, and how they reacted once rationing was ended. It made me chuckle that the thing Penelope missed most was Cadbury’s chocolate! The other issue I found interesting was how the adults didn’t seem taken with America. The parents in the book all seemed suspicious of the country, whereas the children didn’t have any problems with the nation. I also liked how this book taught me things – such as who Johnnie Ray was – the guy who was popular before Elvis took his crown.

This was not a quick read but enjoyable. This is chick-lit, but more complex as it has the historical element. It was a bit predictable, but Penelope’s mother took me by surprise. I liked the characters and how we see Penelope slowly grow up. I wasn’t a fan of Harry, but Rice wrote so well I enjoyed not liking him! Charlotte and Penelope’s friendship was a joy to read about as well – I love the idea of going round to your friend’s aunt’s home for scones and tea! I wanted to live in Penelope’s house as well, and it broke my heart to read of its decay; although I liked how Rice was realistic about how women were struggling to keep houses and to liveabove the borderline after they lost their husbands in the War.

This was an easy read and I enjoyed it. It was touching as well, looking at how different people, different generations and different nationalities coped after World War Two.

8/10

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