Monthly Archives: November 2008

Rogues and Rebels by Jo Field

 Book One of the Tawford Chronicles: A story of intrigue, passion and betrayal in the English Civil War”


 In the autumn of 1642, Southwest England is ripped apart by civil war. Parliament has revolted against King Charles I and the populace is divided. Brothers and cousins, fathers and sons find themselves on opposing sides. Alexander Dynam leads a band of men in the service of the king. He is resourceful and courageous, an accomplished spy and a master of disguise. His men love him, he has earned their respect and they are loyal to the core. As the book opens, Alexander has been caught by Roundheads (as the forces of the Parliament are called) and is being held in a cellar. With MacGyver-like ingenuity, he escapes and in so doing makes a serious enemy of Captain James Dewett, the man held responsible for the loss of such a valuable prisoner. The consequences of his enmity will be far-reaching.

Alexander has always believed himself to be the bastard son of his guardian, Viscount Robert Westley. When he discovers that he is not Robert’s son and Robert refuses to tell him the truth of his parentage it causes a bitter rift between the two. The rift is deepened by the loss of Robert’s actual son, who is killed when thrown from Alexander’s horse. Robert can’t help but blame Alexander, who blames himself just as much. Their division is heartbreaking for Robert’s sister Ellen who loves both men fiercely and can’t bear to see them at odds.
Plots and intrigues hatched and carried out, skirmishes and battles, heroes and heroines who use all of their brains and courage in defense of themselves and their loved ones, cunning and sneaky villains, even a mystery satisfactorily sleuthed and solved. Jo Field brings all these and more together in this wonderful historical novel that brings alive the English past and a host of interesting and well developed characters.
I really enjoyed this engaging story. The plot was intricate and satisfying. If you are like me, you draw conclusions about a book based on the cover (Yes, I know I’m not supposed to!) But don’t let the cover of this one fool you, though set against the background of war, it is far from the heart of the narrative.
The author is currently working on Book Two in this series, Secrets and Ciphers. Write faster, Jo, I can’t wait to read it!
Rogues and Rebels is published by Discovered Authors. ISBN 978-1-905108-61-9
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Still Alice by Lisa Genova

From Amazon ~

Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Fiercely independent, Alice struggles to maintain her lifestyle and live in the moment, even as her sense of self is being stripped away. In turns heartbreaking, inspiring and terrifying, Still Alice captures in remarkable detail what’s it’s like to literally lose your mind…
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up this book to read – certianly not for it to be one of my top five favorite books I’ve read this year. The story of Alice’s diagnosis with early onset Alzheimer’s, the struggle for her husband to accept it, the difficult choices her children face of getting tested for the gene, and how Alice handles herself during her “decline” is one that will move you to tears. While the book takes place over a realtively short period of time it is scary how fast the Alzheimer’s takes over. You’ll find it hard to put down as you walk with Alice through the ways in which she copes with her disease to the heartbreaking moment when she realizes that she has to give up her beloved job of teaching to the hatred you’ll feel for her husband, yet understanding his feelings all at the same time. This book left me wanting to hug Alice and her family – and never let them go! A+++++++++

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New Rules, by Bill Maher

This is a very entertaining, very quick (I read it in one sitting) book, written by Bill Maher, American comedian, tv presenter, writer and social campaigner.

Maher hosts a HBO television show called Real Time with Bill Maher, and New Rules is a segment on that show, in which he comes up with ideas for new rules to help make society run more easily.  This book is a collection of those rules.  Most of them are flippant and funny (one of his new rules involves the idea of Bob Dylan being the ‘voice of a generation’; Maher makes the observation that if a generation could choose a voice, it would pick a better one than Dylan’s – and that is the kind of tone which runs through most of the book). 

However, being a stauch campaigner for the Democratic party – although he did support independent Ralph Nader in the 2004 election – there are a smattering of rules which reflect Maher’s opinion on certain topical issues – stem cell research and same sex marriage, are two examples.  On these matters, Maher drops the flippancy somewhat, and talks passionately about what he believes.

Overall though, this is a funny and light hearted book – with plenty of “He’s absolutely right!” moments.

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The Other Great Depression, by Richard Lewis

For my money, Richard Lewis is one of the funniest men on the planet.  The actor / comedian has had a successful career spanning three decades, and is loved by many.  However, some fifteen years ago, he nearly died after the alcoholism which he had been battling largely in private finally took it’s toll. 

This is not a comedic book, nor is it intended to be (although certain parts are laugh out loud funny).  Instead, Lewis tells us of his life from a young boy growing up in a dysfunctional family, to his descent into alcoholism, and finally his battle to overcome his addiction.  It is not a conventional autobiography, told chronologically; rather it is a collection of essays on all manner of subjects – the aforementioned family, alcoholism and recovery, and other subjects such as his idols, specific incidents in his career, and random musings, which all piece together to tell a very honest tale.

His honesty is what makes this book so readable – Lewis is, by his own admission, self-centred and narcissistic, but he also shows great compassion and understanding of what anybody battling an addiction is facing.  He is truthful in admitting that life still sucks sometimes even after one has got sober, and that overcoming his alcoholism wasn’t like a magic formula which instantly made life wonderful.  He has many neuroses and worries, which he discusses with frankness (I got the impression that writing this book was definitely a cathartic experience for him).  He doesn’t try to offer solutions for others with similar problems – he merely talks about what, finally, worked for him.

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Hearts and Minds – Rosy Thornton

Amazon Product Description

With insight, humour and a great deal of affection, Rosy Thornton reveals the idiosyncrasies of life in a Cambridge college and the pitfalls of being a man in a woman’s world.

St Radegund’s College, Cambridge, which admits only women students, breaks with one hundred and sixty years of tradition by appointing a man, former BBC executive James Rycarte, as its new Head of House. As Rycarte fights to win over the Fellowship in the face of opposition from a group of feminist dons, the Senior Tutor, Dr Martha Pearce, faces her own battles: an academic career in stagnation, a depressed teenage daughter and a marriage which may be foundering. Meanwhile, the college library is susbiding into the fen mud and the students are holding a competition to see who can ‘get a snog off the Dean’. The question on everyone’s lips is how long will Rycarte survive at St Radegunds without someone’s help?


My Thoughts

This is a behind the scenes tale of life and politics at St Radegund’s College at Cambridge University. For 60 years it’s for been women only but this tale starts with a man getting appointed as Head of House. Judging by the cover and the blurb I thought I was in for a light read with a sprinkling of romance but was pleased to discover it was far more than that. There are several underlying plots that could have stood alone as stories themselves. For instance, we meet Martha, who’s married to an unemployed poet, and her depressed 17-year-old daughter. Their family life fascinated me and I would have loved to hear more about them. Then there’s the ethical question that gets raised about admissions to the college. This starts when a rich father offers the college a million pounds in return for his daughter getting offered a place there. I found it fascinating to read about how the dilemma got solved. My only criticism is not a fault of the author’s but the cover art really is all wrong. It makes the book look like chick lit which may just put some readers off from even taking it off the shelves, which would be a real shame as they would be missing out on a great read.


 Many thanks to Rosy Thornton for sending me a copy to read. I will definitely be looking out for more of your books, Rosy.


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In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

ISBN-10: 0747578885

ISBN-13: 978-0747578888

Number of pages: 192 pages


American tourist Frank hires nightlife guide Kenji for three nights. But his behaviour is so odd that Kenji begins to suspect that his client is the serial killer terrorizing Tokyo. It isn’t until the second night that Kenji learns exactly how much he has to fear from this enormous American.

Welcome to the dark side of Tokyo.

‘In The Miso Soup’ begins with an introduction by Kenji, the main character and narrator of the story, he explains the various meanings of his name before beginning his tale of Frank, the American tourist who Kenji takes on as a client, taking him to the various night spots of Toyko.

As the story progresses, you find out there has been various gruesome murders committed, slowly Kenji begins to suspect that Frank may be the serial killer and finds himself dragged into Frank dark side, along with the nightlife of Tokyo, Kenji begins to feel lost in a place he has always known.

‘In the Miso Soup’ is an amazingly insightful book, written in a Film noir style, you are unable to put the book down until you find out what happens to Kenji and Frank. The book also explores the youth culture within Tokyo’s nightlife, how they are seen by society and how wrong society is about them.

An interesting read, you get to see a different side of Toyko, whilst at the same time, witness Kenji’s terror and sympathy towards Frank.

The only downside was the story ends abruptly but it is still an excellent read. I plan to read more literature by Ryu Murakami.

Highly recommended.

Rating: 10/10

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All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Date of Publication: 1928 (my edition, 1982 Ballantine Books)

Number of Pages: 296

Synopsis (from back cover): This is the testament of Paul Bäumer, who enlists with his classmates in the German army of World War I. These young men become enthusiastic soldiers, but their world of duty, culture, and progress breaks into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches.

Through years of vivid horror, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the hatred and meaninglessly pits young men of the same generation but different uniforms against one another…if only he can come out of the war alive.

Review: This has been called the greatest war novel of all time, and it certainly deserves this praise. Not only does the author accurately portray the experience of a soldier during World War I (Remarque himself served in the German army during the war), but he delves deeply into the emotional toll of war that is universal to all soldiers: the loss of hope, the feeling of foreignness at home, and the joy of companionship with your comrades. Paul and his fellow soldiers quickly become accustomed to the horrors of war, and even going home seems to be no longer an option. The story remains relevant today, as thousands of our troops remain in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will remain so as long as there is still war.

Rating: 9/10

Reviewed by Sarah

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Germinal by Émile Zola

Date of Publication: 1885 (my edition, 1998 Oxford World’s Classics)

Number of Pages: 524

Synopsis (from back cover): Zola’s masterpiece of working life, Germinal (1885), exposes the inhuman conditions of French miners in the 1860s. The central figure, Étienne Lantier, is an outsider who enters the community and eventually leads his fellow-miners in a strike against pay-cuts which becomes a losing battle against starvation, repression, and sabotage. Yet despite the violence and disillusion which rock the mining community to its foundations, Lantier retains his belief in the ultimate germination of a new society, leading to a better world.

Germinal is a dramatic novel of working life, sexual desire, and everyday relationships, but it is also a complex novel of ideas, given fresh vigour and power in this new translation.

Review: For those who don’t know, Germinal is the month of April on the Revolutionary calendar, instituted in France in the late eighteenth century. The idea of germination, the springing forth of new life, pervades the entire story, and it is rich with symbolism throughout. Étienne, a newcomer who quickly becomes the leader of the workers’ rebellion, literally plants the seeds of socialism and the promise of a new world order in the minds of these otherwise simple miners. But throughout the book, the lives of the miners remain bleak, going from simply struggling to make each day’s soup and constantly running out of coffee, to simply dying from starvation during the strike, which lasts for more than two months.

But in spite of their poverty and general misery, the miners still enjoy a level of freedom that the bourgeoisie, whole live a life of idleness and ignorance among their workers, do not. They are free to openly engage in sexual activities, which is something that is absolutely forbidden to the upper classes. Even the manager of the mine, M. Hennebeau, as he looks out his window at the swarm of strikers, envies them for their emotional freedom, his own marriage being nothing more than a loveless sham.

There are events in the book that will shock the uninformed reader. The miners regularly beat their wives and children, and the mothers look on their children as little more than wage-earners in some respects. A reader must place himself in the period and environment in which this story takes place. These mining families are holding on with both hands, and struggle everyday just to simply survive. So it’s no wonder that when a child’s legs are crushed in a tragic mining accident, his mother laments the loss of his income more than his injuries and pain. In the end, this book simply shows that the will to survive, and to achieve a just world, can conquer anything.

Rating: 10/10

Reviewed by Sarah

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The Sisterhood by Emily Barr

I’ve always felt something was missing. And then I found out I had a sister I never knew existed. Elizabeth Greene: I had to meet her.

My plan was to get to know her before telling her our secret. But this isn’t how I imagined it. I don’t feel in control any more. Liz has been looking at me strangely, asking awkward questions. Does she suspect something?

But we were meant to find each other, so it will all work out in the end, I know it will. It has to.

This is the second book I’ve read by Emily Barr, so I didn’t have many preconceived ideas about what to expect. What a discovered was a blend between women’s fiction, and a thriller. It’s quite a dark tale, but with lighter moments too.

I have to say that I wasn’t so keen on the beginning section of the book, as I felt it lacked a good introduction to the characters, and their lives. We meet Liz as her relationship crumbles quite dramatically, and Helen as she’s sneaking around in her mother’s belongings. I found it hard to feel anything for Liz, because I hadn’t had time to get to know her, and it felt strange finding Helen snooping, without knowing anything else about her.

However, I persevered, and I’m very glad I did. As you carry on reading, you certainly get to learn more about these two women, and their very different situations, and you can feel the tension starting to build. By the second half of the book, I was fighting against sleep, because I just had to find out what was going to happen next!

As often happens in books such as this, Liz’s pregnancy does seem a rather convenient happening, but it is quite possible. Her choice of partner was also a little unusual, but certainly adds an interesting slant.

The most fascinating character for me however was Helen, and it was her thoughts and actions which kept me hooked. Emily provides a chilling insight into her damaged personality and thought processes.

Going by previous reviews, this isn’t a book for everyone, and I can understand that. It does have some bad points, but I felt that Helen’s character, and the overall growing tension more than made up for them. I believe that this is a book that you need to judge for yourself, but it certainly kept me hooked, and sitting up late!

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The Vampire’s Revenge by Raven Hart

The Vampire’s Revenge is the 5th book in the Savannah Vampire Chronicles – it’s possible to read it as a stand alone book, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You can find out more about the series, and it’s previous books here.. if you like the sound of it, I suggest you rush out and order The Vampire’s Seduction as soon as you can, because you have a lot to look forward to!

The fact that it’s part of a series makes it a difficult book to review.. you will find other reviews giving you an outline of the story, but not only will that spoil your experience of this book, but it will certainly spoil your experience of The Vampire’s Betrayal!

I will say that for those who have read the previous books.. the series continues to develop and expand at it’s usual pace. The focus is on Jack and Connie, which Jack having to make many changes.. to both his circumstances, and himself. The rest of Raven’s world continues to be revealed.. who could guss there was so much going on in Savannah!?

There were a few situations that seemed to be resolved a little too quickly, which in my opinion missed an oppertunity for a little more tension. But then again, Raven has so much going on in this world, that maybe the pace was necessary.

For those of you still waiting to pick up this series, what are you waiting for?! :0)

Overall a great addition to the series, leading nicely in book six!

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