Author Archives: ruth72

About ruth72

I read. A lot.

The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capella

It is London 1896, and young bohemian poet Robert Wallis accepts a job from coffee merchant Samuel Pinker, to compile a guide to the various flavours of coffee.  Robert finds himself working with Pinker’s daughter Emily and despite their very different lifestyles and attitudes, they find themselves attracted to each other.  However, Pinker then sends Robert to Africa for five years, to manage a coffee plantation.  While there, Robert meets Fikre, a slave girl owned by a wealthy Arabian coffee merchant; she awakens desire in him such as he has never known before, and makes him question everything he thought he knew about life, love and himself.

This book, which takes place at the end of the 19th century, tells the story of Robert’s journey from London to Africa and back again, but it is also a story of his metaphorical journey – from that of a selfish, foppish, irresponsible (but still rather endearing) young man, to a man with morals and concerns about social issues.  It also touches on subjects such as fair trade, slavery and suffrage (the last issue becoming a bigger theme in the latter part of the book).  There are numerous and lavish descriptions of various types of coffee; and if you think this sounds like it might be boring, think again!  It was actually fascinating, and made it almost a necessary requirement to drink coffee while reading. 

Robert narrates the book himself, so perhaps is portrayed in a more sympathetic light than if another character had narrated the book.  At the beginning of the story, he is superficial and blase about life, he lives well beyond his means, and spends most of his nights frequenting the whorehouses of London.  Despite all of this, it’s hard not to like him, and I could see how the serious minded and intelligent Emily could be attracted to him.  Emily herself was one of my favourite characters – her passion for politics and in particular, campaigning for women to be able to vote, made for an interesting sub-plot, and provided interesting details about the abuse of process which went on, and how certain people tried to stop women having any independence at all.  It made me eager to find out more about the subkect and was one of the most interesting parts of the story for me.  The book was less than 500 pages long, but certainly packed a lot of story into those pages! 

The ending was unpredictable (to me at least), but satisfying nonetheless, with the very final chapter finishing the story off perfectly.  This was the first book I’ve ever read by Anthony Capella, but I definitely intend to read more.  I’d definitely recommend this book.

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Remix by Lexi Revellian

Caz Tallis has a great life living in her dream flat in London and loving her job making and restoring rocking horses.  So when a handsome stranger turns up on her balcony she is surprised to say the least.  Particularly when the stranger turns out to be rock star Ric Kealey – who died three years ago when he was accused of the murder of his bandmate.  After Ric’s ‘death’ the murder investigation was closed.  But now Ric wants to prove his innocence, and Caz gets drawn into helping him.

Cas finds herself drawn to Ric, but as their enquiries progress, she starts to wonder how much she really knows him – and suddenly she doesn’t know what the truth is, or who she can trust…

This was a great story, combining an intriguing mystery with a budding romance.  The story unfolded at exactly the right pace, and I genuinely had no idea how it would end up.  I was able to empathise with Caz’s feelings towards Ric – he was charismatic and attractive, but could also be selfish and irritating.

The story is narrated by Caz, and she’s a great character – easy to identify with, and with a great sense of humour.  The story twists and turns as she tries to sort out the lies from the truth.

There are a few other characters who flesh out the story – Ric’s solictor and manager Phil, who may or may not be trustworthy; his outrageous and unpredictable former bandmate Jeff Pike; Caz’s best friend James; and Phil’s girlfriend Emma.

Overall, this is a very entertaining and fun read, with a genuinely unpredictable ending – I would certainly recommend it, and hope to read more by this author.

 

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The Lonely Tree by Yael Politis

This is the story of Tonia Shulman, a young Jewish girl growing up on the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz,, in Jerusalem, British Mandate Palestine.

The story starts in 1946, and we meet Tonia, her brother and sister Rina and Natan, and her parents Leah and Josef.  Her father is one of the men who helped found the kibbutz, and his passion for establishing a Labour Zionist movement means that he is often absent from family life.  While the rest of the family will follow their father fairly willingly, Tonia dreams of escape to America, where she can have her own house and freedom from persecution.  When Tonia meets Amos Amrani, they are instantly drawn to one another, but Amos is a member of an underground Jewish movement, which her father detests.

We follow Tonia throughout her life and witness her making some important and difficult decisions, and never letting go of her ambition to move to America.  But even if she fulfils her dream, will it really make her happy?  She truly wants to be with Amos, but will their moment ever come?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Initially I wondered if it would be slightly hard going, but in fact I flew through it.  I loved the character of Tonia, who was so determined and clever, and who loved her own family so much, but felt conflicted between what they wanted for her and what she wanted for herself.  Yael Politis has created an entirely believable heroine, who I warmed to and grew to care for.  I couldn’t always agree with some of the choices Tonia made, but in her position, who is to know what any of us would do?  The rest of her family were all very well fleshed out; I particularly liked her mother and sister.

Amos was a complex character.  He was intelligent and brave, and sometimes very arrogant, which almost made me dislike him at times.  It was refreshing to see two people in a story who felt so much for each other, but yet realised that there were aspects of each other that they didn’t necessarily like.  This is no ‘hearts and flowers’ love story, and it is all the better for it.

There is a section of the book which describes in vivid and painful detail the real life siege of the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz.  The anguish and fear felt by the men left on the kibbutz to fight was so well depicted, and I found that part particularly moving.

The effects of the wars and turbulent time are felt by all, and the reader is privy not just to its effects on Tonia and Amos, but also their families.

The writing is very eloquent and the story flowed beautifully.  The narrative is moving, with humour and pathos and is also very informative about a specific part of Jewish history.

I would highly recommend this book.

 

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

It’s 1946, and author Juliet Ashton is looking for a suitable subject for her next book.  Out of the blue she receives a letter from a man named Dawsey Adams from Guernsey, who has acquired a book which used to belong to Juliet (and which had her address in it).  He writes to her and a friendship quickly develops.  Dawsey is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a reading group formed during the German occupation in Guernsey in the war.  As the correspondence continues, Juliet also starts swapping letters with other members of the literary society, who tell her about their way of life in Guernsey, the way that the islanders suffered during the occupation.  They all seem eager to talk about their friend Elizabeth McKenna, a remarkable woman whose current whereabouts are unknown after she was arrested by the German Officers.

This is a truly delightful read-in-one -sitting book.  It is told entirely through the letters and telegrams of Juliet and the reading group members, and each character has their own distinct voice.  Life under the German occupation was described in vivid details and the author(s) did not shirk away from the showing the dread and intimidation that became part of daily life.

However, this book is also very uplifting and humorous – making me laugh out loud on a number of occasions.  The characters are all very loveable and some of them are very quirky or eccentric.  I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them, and felt as though I knew them all.

I would certainly recommend this story – to use a cliche, it is very heartwarming and a wonderful comforting read.  One to treasure and reread in the future.

 

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The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton

This is the story of Catherine Parkstone, a 48 year old woman, who has moved to the French mountains in the search for a new life, and a new business in tapestry and upholstery.  The idyllic lifestyle she had hoped for is a complete change from her life in England – her house is one of only four in a tiny hamlet, which seems cut off from civilisation, and she has to cope with French bureacracy which threatens to stop her business before it’s even begun.  And then there’s her enigmatic neighbour, Patrick Castagnol…

This is the second novel I have read by Rosy Thornton, and I have now resolved to buy the two which I have not yet read.  I love the way that the author creates very believable characters, who I really felt that I got to know.  Rather than creating a stereotypical heroine, Catherine is a very decent if flawed human being – i.e., very true to life.  I enjoyed the relationships she had with her two very different children; nature lover Tom, who is quiet and somewhat reticent; and the vivacious, gregarious Lexie.  Catherine’s sister Bryony was also a great character, if not quite as sympathetic as Catherine herself.

Patrick Castagnol was necessarily slightly harder to work out.  It was easy to understand Catherine’s simultaneous attraction and frustration with him. 

I particularly liked the description of the French mountains and the lifestyle of the residents, and felt that I could really imagine what it was like to stay there (and actually, this book made such a lifestyle seem like a very attractive prospect)!  My favourites were her elderly neighbours, Monsieur and Madame Bouschet – the kind of neighbours one can only hope to have!

Essentially this is a story of ordinary people – but that does not mean that it is in any way boring.  I enjoyed reading about the main character trying to navigate her new landscape and new way of life.  The interplay between the various characters was entirely believable, and the writing flowed easily.  I genuinely found this book hard to put down. 

I would definitely recommend this book (as well as Crossed Wires, the previous novel I read by Rosy Thornton).

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By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan

It is nearing the end of the 15th century, and Luis de Santangel is the chancellor to the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Ysabel.  The Inquisition has made its way to Spain, and many Jewish people are in fear for their lives.  de Santangel is a converso – of Jewish heritage, but converted to Christianity.  He develops an interest in the religion of his ancestors – partly due to an ancient parchment which Cristobal Colon (Christopher Columbus) delivers to him – and in doing so, puts himself, his family, and friends who share his interest, in great danger.  Tomas de Torquemada, the leader of the Inquisition becomes interested in de Santangel, and will go to any means necessary to capture him.  While de Santangel’s position in the Kings Court may afford him some protection, he is well aware that there is a limit to such protection.

Meanwhile, Judith Migdal is a Jewish lady living in Granada.  Mourning the loss of her brother and his wife, she takes on the role of looking after the wife’s father and her brother’s son.  She determines to carry on the silversmith business which her brother had built up, but soon finds herself navigating a difficult landscape as she sees the persecution of Jews and the dangerous times which they will all be facing.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  Initially I thought it might be hard going, but instead it was utterly absorbing and interesting.  There is tremendous detail regarding the Inquisition, the instability of the times and the lives and cultures of people living in Spain at the time – it is clear that the author must have conducted extensive research.  However, the book does not become bogged down with detail – the writing serves to help immerse the reader into the atmosphere in which the story is set, with the sights and sounds almost seeping out of the pages.

The somewhat explicit detailing of the torture and punishment inflicted on the Jewish people leaves little to the imagination, and at times made for uncomfortable reading.

Luis was a very well drawn character.  I felt that throughout the book, the reader really got to know him very well.  He was clearly an intelligent man in a position of privilege, who commanded respect.  However, his life of comfort was not enough to stop him asking questions about the motivations of the Inquisition, and his own family history.  Judith was also a wonderful character.  She was strong and determined, because she had no choice but to be.  I felt that the author really allowed the reader to see into these people’s lives and thoughts.

I really think that there are two stories contained in the book; that of Luis de Santagel and the events which take place and which draw Judith Migdal into his orbit; and that of an unstable period of time when people were scared for their lives, practised their religion in private and were never sure who they could trust.  Both stories are equally enjoyable.  The integration of Christopher Columbus (prior to his most famous voyage) was interesting reading.  Although Columbus does not appear in the book a great deal, he does play an important role.

Overall, this book is highly recommended – fantastically researched, very well written and fascinating.  I would especially recommend it to fans of historical fiction, or anybody with even a passing interest in this period of history.  It certainly inspired me to find out more about the Inquisition, and Luis de Santangel himself.

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Blacklands by Belinda Bauer

12 year old Steven Lamb doesn’t have a lot to be happy about.  He, his brother Davey and their mother Lettie, live with Steven’s Nan.  His mother clearly favours Davey, and his nan is haunted by the loss of her own son Billy almost two decades earlier.  Billy was believed to have been a victim of serial killer Arnold Avery, who is now in prison.  Billy’s body was never found, and Steven has spent a huge amount of time digging to try and find it on Exmoor (where oher victims of Avery were buried). 

Steven thinks that if he can just find Billy’s body, his family can obtain closure and may be able to be happy again.  When his digging yields no result, he decides to write to Avery and ask where Billy is buried.  And so begins a terrifying game of cat and mouse…

This book was very gripping and hard to put down.  The narration was pacy, and switched from Steven’s point of view to that of Avery.  The chapters told from Avery’s viewpoint were disturbing, which is only to be expected as he was a paedophile and child murderer.  These parts worked particularly well in casting in creating a dark and sinister atmosphere in which the story took place.

For me, the chapters told from Steven’s point of view worked slightly less well.  I found some of his thought processes to be somewhat unrealistic for a 12 year old boy, and thought that for a child who was clearly very naive in some respects, he seemed to reason things out in a way that I would not have expected.

However, the story held my attention throughout and while I had to suspend my disbelief on occasion, I did find the book extremely readable.  The writing flowed well and drew me in completely.  My favourite parts, and the sections that were most believeable, were the scenes with Steven and his family.  These parts were upseting because they portrayed such a realistic view of a family heading towards meltdown.  Lettie has been let down by men all of her life – her childrens’ father is out of the picture, and her children are used to seeing a succession of ‘uncles’ – and she seems to love her younger son more than she loves Steven.  His nan spends all of her days looking out of the window waiting for the return of a son who is never coming back.  Steven himself is either picked on or completely ignored at school, and his one friend Lewis, takes advantage of him constantly.  It was no surprise to me to read the author’s note where she said that the book was originally going to be about a boy and his family, and the impact which a 20 year old murder had had on them, rather than a psychological thriller involving a serial killer.

Despite the minor niggles, I would certainly recommend the book, although the subject matters means that it might not appeal to everybody.  I will also be looking out for other books by this author.

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Few Are Chosen by M T McGuire

The Pan of Hamgee is charming, funny, quick thinking – and a coward.  The only thing he’s any good at is running away.  It’s a pretty good skill though, and explains why after being blacklisted for five years, he’s still alive when the rest of his family are dead, and his whole existence is treason.  Perhaps there are some people in his home world of K’Barth who don’t want to kill him, but they seem to be few and far between.  It’s probably lucky then that he literally has eyes in the back of his head.

He puts his getaway skills to use as a driver for a gang of bank robbers, but when they inadvertently steal a precious thimble which has magical powers, he is set on a road to disaster, which pits him against Lord Vernon, the despot leader of K’Barth.  Lord Vernon is prepared to go to any lengths necessary to stop the rightful leader from becoming known – and just because The Pan got in his way once before, there’s no way either of them want that to happen again.

The Pan has never believed that ethics and principles are very helpful in the art of survival, but all of a sudden he finds himself fighting for what he believes in, trying to escape with his life, and becoming captivated by a young woman whose name he does not even know.  Will he survive?  Will he get the girl?  And might he even gain some courage along the way?…

Fantasy is not normally a favourite genre of mine, as I can find it hard to suspend disbelief.  However, I did not have this problem with this book.  It’s packed with humour and action, and held my attention throughout.  The struggles for independence and survival by both The Pan and the residents of the land to an extent reflect real life events which happen in our world.

The Pan is a great hero, precisely because he does not possess the usual ‘heroic’ attributes.  He is happy to admit that he is a coward, who is just desperate to stay alive.  For someone who tries so hard to avoid confrontation, he finds himself in many sticky situations and often exacerbates matters by talking before thinking.  But he has charisma and is very likeable.  I also liked his employer Big Merv, who had hidden depths which are revealed throughout the book.

Lord Vernon made for a formidable villain – powerful, intelligent and without a shred of compassion.

The writing flows easily and the story moves along rapidly, with plenty laughs, and detail about the world of K’Barth which is both similar and very different to life on earth.  This book is the first in a trilogy and I was definitely left feeling that I wanted to know what happened next.

Recommended, especially to fans of fantasy, but also to those who might usually avoid it.

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Soul Catcher by Michael White

This novel is set in America in the years leading up to the American Civil War.  Augustus Cain, a Southern man and a veteran of the earlier war with Mexico, is a ‘soul catcher’ – that is, he hunts runaway slaves and brings them back to their owners.  He wants to give up the profession, but has lost his way in life, and spends his time and money on alcohol or laudanum, women and gambling.  When he can’t pay a gambling debt to a wealthy businessman, he reluctantly agrees to track two of the man’s slaves, which have run away.

The journey will take him into the northern states, accompanied by a group of men who he is not sure he can trust.  The terrain and bitter conditions make the journey tough, and the danger he faces from the abolitionists in the north make it even tougher.  But that is nothing compared to how difficult he finds things when he locates the slaves – and in particular the young female slave named Rosetta.  Cain finds himself questioning his beliefs and his way of life, and wondering if any amount of payment can be worth bringing Rosetta back to the south for.  Suddenly, he has a big decision to make – and faces mortal danger whichever path he chooses…

I really enjoyed this book.  It felt a little slow to start off with, but before I knew it, the story had pulled me in and I was eager to know what would happen to the main characters.  It was some feat on behalf of the author to make the reader feel any sympathy whatsoever for a main character who believes that slavery is, if not desirable, certainly acceptable.  However, despite the distaste I felt for Cain’s beliefs, I did feel that he was a character who most readers would end up rooting for.

The descriptions of the the different parts of America which Cain and his companions (other employees of the businessman Eberly to whom Cain owed money) crossed in order to find the slaves were rich in detail, and very evocative, and the book blended character, plot and description very well.  The famous abolitionist John Brown also appeared in the book as a lesser – but important – character, reminding the reader that although the main characters are fictional, the struggles and bids for freedom made by many slaves, were all too real.

It isn’t perfect – Cain is something of a stereotype, and another character Preacher is a typical ‘baddie’.  My favourite character was Rosetta, who displayed incredible dignity and strength of character, despite the dreadfully unjust hand that life had dealt her.  I certainly felt that Rosetta was a beautifully drawn character, and very easy to care about.

Overall, this was a hugely readable book.  It might not be for everyone – parts of it moved slowly, particularly in the first part, and the subject matter can be disturbing – but I ended up becoming absorbed in it, and would certainly seek out more work by this author.

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