Miss Treadaway & The Field Of Stars by Miranda Emmerson

img_2361
Click here to order from Waterstones

Anna Treadway has made a life for herself in London, she lives in a little flat above a Turkish Cafe on Neal Street and has a job dressing the actresses at the Galaxy Theatre.

But 1965 is going to be a disruptive year for her. The American actress she’s dressing –  Iolanthe Green – leaves the theatre as usual one night but doesn’t turn up for the next performance. Soon the newspapers are wild with speculation about her fate. Then the news grows old and it seems to Anna that she is the only person left that cares.

As she searches she stumbles into a different world, a world of jazz clubs and illegal abortions, where the colour of your skin could get you beaten and left in a prison cell.

I have to admit the main reason I picked up this book is because I spent some of the happiest years of my life on Neal Street. So the chance to spend some time there, even in a different era, was too good to miss.

I was a bit worried that this might veer too hard into the romance hinted at on the original blurb and therefore turn into a feast of marshmallow gooiness. However, though there is sweetness in this book, there is also bitterness. Miranda Emmerson has created range of compelling characters from diverse backgrounds without either patronising them or exploiting them. In this she has recreated a honest tableau of London life both in the 60’s and since.

This book has a theme, and a message but it is one that takes a while to emerge. That’s not a problem though as the mystery of Iolanthe’s disappearance and the way that Emmerson’s description’s of London’s wintery nights are seductive and it’s easy to keep reading whilst the message reveals itself slowly.

This is a book I’d definitely recommend – in fact there’s a few people I can think of that would definitely like it so a few copies may well end up wrapped in birthday wrapping paper in the next couple of months!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

the-watchmaker-of-filigree-street
Click here to order from Waterstones

Thaniel Steepleton is getting by rather than living. His job as a telegraphist at the Home Office earns him just enough to support his widowed sister but not enough for him to afford to pursue his love of music. Then one day he returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. It isnt a birthday present from his sister but unfortunately he has no time to investigate further as a credible bomb threat has just come through.

When the watch saves Thaniel’s life in the threatened blast, he starts to investigate where it came from. His search leads him to its maker, Keita Mori – a gentle Japanese man whose seductive world of clockwork and music entrances him. Meanwhile, Grace Carrow will soon be making her entrance into his life but meanwhile she is sneaking into an Oxford library dressed as a man. A theoretical physicist, she is desperate to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether before her mother can force her to marry.

This blend of historical fiction and fantasy creates an enchanting steampunk-esque thriller. A character that can remember the future, one that can see sounds, the aforemantioned theoretical physicist, plus detectives from Scotland Yard, Japanese ambassadors, Irish nationalists and cameo appearances from Gilbert and Sullivan show what a talented writer Natasha Pulley is. Each character is utterly believable even if they barely grace the page.

The plot is intriguing but the author also adds in magical details like a clockwork Octopus with a penchant for stealing socks so there is never a dull moment. But these details are never just gratuitous. I can’t say any more than that or I’ll be guilty of spoilers!

One of the things that really sets this book aside though is the attention to sentence structure. That might sound like a very dry thing to say but when a book contains so many teeny tiny nibbles of pure bliss then the dish as a whole is definitely going to be tasty!

If you want some well-crafted escapism pick this up!

4 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue

img_2252Kay Harper is spending the summer as an acrobat in the Old City of Québec, her new husband Theo has decamped there with her and the two fall in love with the quaintness of the place. In particular Kay falls in love with a puppet in the window of the Quatre Mains, a toy shop that is never open.

One night, fearing she is being followed, she notices the lights of the toy shop are on and the door is open. She dives inside.

Theo wakes up curious at her absent, by evening it is clear that she’s missing. Searching for her he starts hanging around the circus and bonds with one of the workers. But the weeks drag on and he falls under police suspicion himself. Eventually he has to head home. Then his mother-in-law contacts him convinced she saw Kay on television and the quest to find her is back on – but it will stretch the limits of his sanity.

I’m a little bit at a loss for how to describe this book. It was a sensory feast, full of colours and shade, scents and seasons. But all overlaid with tension, despair and hope. There is a fantastical element to it but that never overtakes the sense of reality about it. The characters are varied but even the most unbelievable are believable.

It’s a fairly quick read, a little more body to it wouldn’t hurt but it’s not necessary. I can’t give it five bites because it didn’t make me question anything but I’ll definitely look out for more books by Keith Donohue!.

4 Bites

 

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

Debut novel
Debut novel

Kate and Sally grew up in the family home in Herne Bay. From early childhood they would frequently witness their drunken father viciously beating their mother and when Kate moved to intervene he would beat her too. Realising that an earlier family tragedy had inextricably bound her parents together Kate escaped as soon as she could and now sees violence and bloodshed on a near daily basis as a war reporter. Sally became an emotionally damaged teenaged mother who struggled to manage her daughter, but life sometimes gives second chances and now she has an adoring spouse. Nevertheless her daughter Hannah ran away at the age of sixteen and Sally is driven to seek refuge in alcohol abuse and denial.

Their father is long dead when the tale begins but now their mother has died and Kate has flown home to settle her mother’s estate. Sally is drunk for most of the time and the animosity between the sisters is such that Kate has opted to stay alone in their mum’s house and enjoy the peace. But peace is something Kate cannot find, suffering from PTSD from her work as a war reporter she can barely sleep and combines pills with alcohol to blot out the vivid nightmares. To add to her misery her long-term lover has ended their relationship in favour of his wife and Kate has miscarried the only baby she might ever have had. Confusing nightmares and family history with current reality Kate becomes certain that there is an unhappy child in the house next door although her neighbour denies it.  Then Kate sees the child again but this time he is crying in the night and her reporter’s instincts refuse to be silenced. Her actions lead to her arrest and she is held for a full psychiatric assessment that involves raking in detail over the past she doesn’t want to face. Released with a restriction preventing her from returning to the street Kate opts to go back to Syria, but before she leaves she pays a visit to Sally and despite their many ongoing disagreements she begs Sally to keep an eye out for the little boy. From here on both sisters find themselves plunged into terrible danger.

The first half of the story skilfully intersperses details of Kate’s life and past as revealed through the psychiatric assessment interview, with the events of the week leading up to her arrest and her decision to return to Syria. The rest of the tale then develops the mystery of the little boy and reveals, as studies have shown, that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be affected by violence as adults – either as victims or perpetrators.

At its heart this is a tale full of violence, darkness and illness, but it is also a tale of love and of survival. It is packaged as a thriller and it keeps its secrets right up to the terrifying dénouement. It’s a clever, complicated and well executed story with excellent character development and sound psychology behind it. This is Ellwood’s debut novel and she found inspiration for the themes in the experiences of her sister and her father, both of whom are journalists. I found it absorbing and disturbing and felt compelled to read it through in one day.

I give it 4 bites, a meal that leaves a bitter taste but I expect it to be a very popular dish.

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

imageMargot Lewis is a schoolteacher going through a divorce whose student Katie Brown has recently gone missing, but police are minimising the investigation as they suspect Katie’s run away rather than been abducted.

She’s also the agony aunt for The Cambridge Examiner where she gets her fair share of crank letters. But when she recieves one from Bethan Avery, a local girl that went missing years ago, saying she doesn’t know where she is and that she’s been kidnapped she feels compelled to pass it on to the police even though she’s sure it’s just a cruel hoax. Then more letters arrive, with information that was never made public. How is this happening?

I’ve not read a thriller in a fair few months but the premise of this was intriguing enough to make me sneak it onto my ‘To Be Read’ pile – how is she getting the letters out if she can’t get herself out? I knew they’d be some intriguing twists and turns.

I’m not keen on reading about any form of abuse so I am fussy about these kinds of books, only really picking them up if it seems like they’re not exploiting the idea of exploitation – always a difficult balancing act. Though there were undoubtably uncomfortable moments in this book I personally think the author treats this topic well. We know that violence including rape is perputrated by the kidnapper but it isn’t even described let alone used to titilate.

The psychologial twists in this are truly ingenius, I’m not sure whether some of the PTSD symptoms are accurate because they were described so believably I felt no need to put the book down and google – I really didn’t want to put the book down for anything though reading it in bed late at night did make me a bit scared!

I’m not an expert in this genre but this was an addictive read – 4 Bites!

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart by Peter Swanson

There were several things about this book that drew me in. The title- obvious comparisons with the Steig Larsson books, the cover- bold and a bit film noir-ish, and the description- promising intrigue and excitement:

tgwcfahGeorge Foss never thought he’d see her again, but on a late-August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack’s Tavern.

When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl’s grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece – the one who had committed suicide – was not his girlfriend. Later, he discovered the true identity of the girl he had loved – and of the things she may have done to escape her past.

Now, twenty years later, she’s back, and she’s telling George that he’s the only one who can help her…

So I was expecting great things. I was expecting to finish it in one go; I was expecting a twisty, exciting plot; I was expecting characters with flawed yet fascinating personalities and I was expecting a thrilling denouement…

I did not receive great things. I didn’t finish in one go; it took several reading sessions. It wasn’t especially exciting although was quite twisty. The characters were flat with no development and an annoying tendency to make unrealistic and outright stupid decisions. The denouement was either a last minute attempt to lay the groundwork for a series, or an example of an author getting totally bored with the story and ‘phoning in’ the ending.

The story plays out in two different times- when George and Liana/Audrey/Jane are at college and 20 years later when they meet again. Aside from the fact they are set in different locations, it is difficult to distinguish them- the voice of the character doesn’t change. There is no hint of development in the way they act or view the world- this is a huge problem considering the experiences the characters, especially George, go through in the intervening time.

The secondary characters are lifeless or unrealistic. The police characters do not act like the police and although they need to make the decisions they do in order make the story work, the fact that the police would never act like they do just makes it all messy and not a great read.

George in particular is not a good character- he is boring and he makes stupid unrealistic choices. Characters making stupid choices I can live with if the author has given them the right motivation for them. George’s motives and his choices do not align, and if I cannot believe in a character’s motivations for his choices, the character is not well written. There is no way that George would make the ridiculous decisions he does simply for the sake of the chance of being with a woman he last saw 20 years ago whom he KNOWS is wanted for criminal activities. He only went out with her for a couple of months. And she certainly isn’t written as an addictive femme fatale so it’s not that she’s just so marvellous he HAS to be with her. It just doesn’t make sense. And this, above all other flaws, is what makes this book so disappointing.

So… yeah. Not great things. Not even good things. Perhaps mediocre things…?

1 bite. Not recommended.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Maestra by L S Hilton

maestra_book_coverIt was bound to happen one day, a best seller written to a computer designed recipe. That’s how L.S Hiltons Maestra “The most shocking thriller of the year” comes across.

The recipe:-
Take lots of kinky sex, add copious amounts of designer shopping, half a dozen over ripe billionaire playgrounds, blend with super yachts, power and money. spice with murder and major art fraud, add a pinch of humour. Leave in a warm place to rise. If it doesn’t rise add more sex and a hedge fund or two.

The computer also says that you must grab the reader’s attention by getting in a torrid sex scene within the first fifty pages. The plot of Maestra didn’t allow for this, so instead the publishers put in a prologue which described three characters involved in a bizarre sex act. This prologue was so badly written that it was impossible to understand who was doing what, to whom and why. This seemingly irrelevant prologue turned out to be an extract from a sex scene which appeared later in the book. After reading it for a second time I was still none the wiser.

All novels are published with the intention of making money and it comes as no surprise that someone came up with the idea that “Fifty Shades of Grey”, but this time instead of EL James it should be written by a gifted and intelligent author, This would surely be a best seller. The author L.S Hilton fits the bill, formerly an historical biographer she is both gifted and intelligent, her writing (apart from the sex scenes) is often beautiful and the plot, involving the art world and money laundering, was well researched. Her knowlege of Italian art was impressive. As an artist myself, I was fascinated to learn about Agnolo Bronzino and Artemesia Gentileschi (I had to put the book down to look them up on Wikipedia).

The clever and convoluted plot moved along at a cracking pace. I read it in a day. Maestra has been described as a bonkbuster and as romp. To me it didn’t fit into either category, it was simply too dark, the anti-heroine Judith Rashleigh was too cold, calculating and cynical to earn any affection. Frankly I couldn’t have cared less if she lived or died.

The recipe lacked a few ounces of warmth and humour, they would have made all the difference. As it was I felt that Maestra was half baked.

Three Bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

img_2276Hope Ardern has a very unusual problem, she can’t stay in anyone’s memory. If they turn away from her for just a few minutes it is like they’ve never seen her before and everything about their interactions have vanished from their minds.

It started when she was sixteen, schoolteachers not remembering she’d attended class, her friends forgetting to call her, her dad forgetting to drive her to school until her mother doesn’t remember her at all one morning when she comes down to breakfast and she has to pretend to be a friend staying over. That’s when she knows she has to leave and make her own way in the world, but it’s not so easy to get a job if people don’t remember you interviewing for it so she turns to crime. Stealing is easy when people forget to report you after all.

Stealing is how Hope gets caught up with the quest for “Perfection” – a new app that helps us mere mortals become as perfect as all those photo-shopped images we see everyday.  She’s hired to steal “Perfection” by someone that wants to destroy it, but “Perfection” could make her memorable.

Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was the first book I reviewed for this site and I really enjoyed it, so when I saw this I knew I had to grab a copy! Like that I listened to the audio version of the book, a little longer than the last one at just over 16 hours but the premise sounded really intriguing.

Not a single minute of those 16+ hours was wasted! There’s so much in this book, so much that makes you think. From meditating on memory and the sadness of losing someone to Alzheimers to pondering the cult of perfection that seems to be taking over the world, this book will get you thinking. But it’s all wrapped up in such an intriguing story, and ironically Hope Ardern is a character you’ll never forget.

Claire North is one heck of a clever person and I think I’d like her as my new best friend. Anyone that can weave together the poetry of Byron and Wordsworth with the lyrics of The Macarena this skillfully deserves ALL the awards. And no, I’m not telling you what that’s about – read the book – you won’t regret it!

5 Bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

img_2254Albert Mirrells is a young city man striding into the future when he meets his young cousin from the Yorkshire at the Great Exhibition. Though at first inconvenienced by meeting the simple country girl he is soon beguiled by her teasing intelligence and her sweet song voice.

So years later when he hears that Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth and charged as a changeling by her own husband, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to Halfoak to look into her death. But superstitions are yet to be swept away by progress in this old nook of the world and he soon finds himself caught up in tales of the ‘Hidden People’ and struggling to find any rational explanations. Could the old folk tales be true?

There’s a quote that says easy reading is difficult writing and this book is totally true of that. I read it in one sitting, in about four or five hours, and then felt a little guilty as the author has clearly worked damn hard on this and it probably took a couple of years to write and rewrite. I have put it straight in my ‘re-readable’ pile though so hopefully that’ll give it more of the time it deserves in future.

Although it’s set in a summer that won’t end, this gothic grown up fairy-tale is ideal reading for autumn or winter nights too. There’s a blood-curdling mystery, an unreliable narrator, sullen villagers, folk songs, dandelion clocks, fabulous Yorkshire dialect counterpointing with formal Victorian speech, trains and fairies – I don’t really know what more you can ask for!

The author has skillfully woven traitorous threads and true together so you’re brain will be thinking ‘hang on a sec…’ several times throughout the narrative but unless you’re cleverer than me (which is possible I know!) you will still be surprised by the ending.

4 very satisfied Bites 😋

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Himself by Jess Kidd

Debut Novel
Debut Novel

Mahoney is a dark eyed, dark haired, leather jacketed lad down from Dublin for a holiday in the tranquil village of Mulderrig, or so he claims as he chats to Tadgh the publican.

His real reason for visiting is…well, rather more complex; raised by nuns in St Martha’s orphanage he’s just received an anonymous letter that was written at the time he was abandoned. Now he knows his mammy’s name, where she came from and even his own name – not that he’s intending to use it. He also knows she was considered the curse of the town. Among the many things he doesn’t know is what happened to her, why he was abandoned, who his father is and why, oh why, he can see ghosts.

With laughing eyes and a charming smile Mahoney attracts much interest and before a day has passed Tadgh has introduced him to half the town and found lodgings for the handsome stranger.

Up at Rathmore House young Shauna Burke is struggling to keep the fine old house going, her mother left years ago and her father took to his garden shed in grief where he reads about fairies and talks to himself in a Protestant accent. Her one paying guest is the ancient thespian Mrs Cauley, tiny in size, mighty in nature and comfortably wealthy she refuses to kowtow to the dogma of the local priest, Father Quinn. Recognising a kindred spirit in Mahoney the old woman takes him under her wing determined to help him find the truth about his mother.

Each year Mrs Cauley finances and stages a show in aid of the Church and this year SHE has decided it will be The Playboy of The Western World with Mahoney in the lead role. Under the guise of auditions Mrs Cauley sets to work asking questions that should have been asked twenty years earlier and uncovering a web of deceit so dark that it is surprising that the sun can ever again shine upon shameful Mulderig. Aided and abetted by ghosts, dreams and love struck women, Mahoney is kept busy following up the leads. Meanwhile with the troublesome priest doing his very best to bring down hell and damnation on the wicked stranger nature has decided it’s time to make its presence felt on the priest.

This book is an entire firework display of delights. The characters are spicy and gnarly despite some small town caricatures and by page thirty I was dreaming of Aidan Turner in the role of Mahoney with Maggie Smith as the force of nature that is Mrs Cauley. Engaging, humorous, dark and witty the dialogue crackled with spite and brilliance as small town secrets were revealed. The lilting Irish phrasing practically sang off the page while touches of magic realism combined to keep what is at its heart a dark and brutal tale from leaving a bitter taste.

I so enjoyed this book I want to read it all again immediately. It has to score a perfect 5 from me

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Holding by Graham Norton

Temporary cover
Temporary cover

Set in Duneen, a sleepy, timeless Irish village this novel would be ideal for an audio book. It perfectly encapsulates the humorous, gossipy voice of Graham Norton as it tells the tale of a fat village guard who bumbles his way through the first real crime investigation that Duneen has ever seen. Guard Patrick James Collins is known to everyone as PJ and in the 15 years as Sergeant his job has largely involved issuing licenses and checking tax discs until one day a builder turns up some human bones on an old farm and PJ finally feels like a winner.

Up on the old Byrne farm the remains of a young man have been unearthed and speculation runs like wildfire through the village that it must be the body of Tommy Burke who vanished some twenty years ago. Suddenly old romances are dragged back into the light of day for handsome Tommy had been engaged to one girl and soft on another before his mysterious disappearance.

Set apart from the village live the spinster Ross sisters, Abigail, Florence and Evelyn. Their lives have been blighted with tragedy and loss and their family home, Ard Carraig, seems to attract sadness. Sweet Evelyn’s heart was broken beyond repair when Tommy vanished without a word.

On the other side of town lives Brid. Never an attractive girl she had lacked suitors until her father’s sudden death meant she inherited his farm. Then suddenly a stream of unattached young men with farming in mind arrive to court to the young woman. Amongst them was handsome Tommy and Brid had thought herself the luckiest girl alive when he proposed. Notice of the engagement was posted and the village buzzed with joy, until Evelyn, seething with jealousy and disappointment, launched herself at Brid in the middle of the street and the young women fought for their man. Oddly that was the same day that Tommy left town, the gossips had it that he was seen boarding the bus with a small suitcase and nothing had been seen of him since.

So this is the tangled web that PJ has to unravel and his investigations affect him as much as they affect those he must question. Unwittingly, gentle PJ finds himself caught up in the lives of the two very different women and in doing so discovers a new side to his nature.

Entertaining, skilfully layered and gently revealing of the characters’ flaws and foibles this is an engaging and cosy read. The language is full of imagery and I was surprised at how well the private thoughts and emotions of the characters were conveyed in just a few words e.g. “She felt transparent without the dark cloud of the past trapped inside her”. Each character was sufficiently developed and individual for the reader to get inside their psyche and sense for just a moment what it might feel like to be a fat, sweaty Guard or a lonely, heartbroken woman. That said it isn’t high literature but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would heartily recommend it to those who like Agatha Raisin, Miss Marple, or Midsomer Murder

 

Like buttery toast and a hot cup of tea when you’re home feeling poorly on a winter’s day. It rates 4 bites from me.

I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think. The hardback will be released on 6th October

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

imageBecca isn’t quite sure why she’s at the hospital visiting Tasha, after all Tasha made it clear years ago that Becca wasn’t cool enough to be her friend. But she was dead for 13 minutes, and they did used to be best friends so she may as well just give her best at least.

Tasha doesn’t remember how she ended up in the icy water,  but she does know she wasn’t suicidal and she doesn’t think it wasn’t an accident either.  Her two best friends Hayley and Jenny are acting wierd since it happened. She’s grateful that at least this has led to making up with her old friend Becca.

But as the two teenagers try to find out what really happened their other friends are put at risk…

This is aimed at the Young Adult market (the older end, 15+ I’d say) but it can hold it’s own against most psychological thrillers.  There are twists and turns a-plenty and it’s difficult to trust your instincts when there are so many red herrings to slip on!

The story is told from both Becca’s point of view and from Tasha’s, and although the girls are very different both characters are believable as is their relationship. All the characters are well drawn, and if the ‘mean girl’ clique is a little cliche that is because so many people can relate to it. However there are sub-plots with adult characters and these show the authors ability to draw a variety of characters as well as emphasising the difficulty of being on the cusp of adulthood.

If you enjoy Pretty Little Liars then read this – it’s concise and pacy … and British!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Shelter by Jung Yun

imageKyung Cho, a second generation Korean immigrant and his American wife Gillian live far beyond their means. Their lifestyle, and Kyung’s career is semi-supported by Kyung’s parents, Jin and Mae. But though they’ve given Kyung a privileged upbringing they never gave him love.

His father would beat his mother and she would beat Kyung.

Now he can hardly bear to see his parents, and resents the help they have given him. But when a shocking act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own he feels obliged to take them in. Suddenly he is forced to confront his past and his present.

This is a real nail-biter of a book, it may sound like a family drama or domestic noir but it goes further than that. There’s a real crime to be recovered from and solved, as well as an in-depth examination of the tensions of  being a second generation immigrant and clashing with your families culture and religion yet not quite fitting in with your own countries culture either.

I felt sorry for Kyung, but I also felt sorry for his wife Gillian and I could understand his parents. All of them mess up and make mistakes which hurt each other. This book looks at crime and punishment in all it’s forms and asks when rehabilitation is possible and what it takes to be forgiven both by society and those we hold dear.

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland

imageOne of my favourite books is “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues” by Tom Robbins and a book challenge I’m participating in wants us to read a Zombie book so when my partner came home with a second-hand copy of this I knew it was fated!

If you’ve read Even Cowgirls Get The Blues then first I must tell you that besides the wink to the title there is no similarities between the two books. This is no awful parody like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!

Angel Crawford is finally starting to get used to life as a brain-eating zombie, but her problems are far from over. Her felony record is coming back to haunt her, more zombie hunters are popping up, and she’s beginning to wonder if her hunky cop-boyfriend is involved with the zombie mafia. You read that right, there’s a zombie mafia!

This book isn’t high literature, but let’s be honest, if all books were high literature life would be pretty damn dull! And dull is definitely not what this book is! In fact it’s quite a clever genre-fusion.  With Angel working as a mortuary assistant she ends up in the middle of a lot of crime scenes. Though she dropped out of high school she’s far from stupid and finally having an opportunity to improve her ‘life’ is something she’s determined to seize.

This is the second book in a series but it can be read as a stand-alone, the back story gets told but without getting in the way of the current story. The characters are based in stereotypes which allows you to instantly recognise them but they’re not so stereotypical that they’re two-dimensional.

I read this pretty quickly, not because it was short but because it is a real page-turner.

Eat this not brains!

4 bites

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

imageAnnie McDee is trying to get over her ex-husband, she met someone nice at an art gallery and against her better judgement she is cooking him dinner so he doesn’t have to spend his birthday alone. Whilst looking for a present for him she see’s an old painting in a dingy antique shop – she’s buys it on a whim not realising it is a missing masterpiece.

Before she knows what’s happening she is being swirled into the greedy, deceptive world of high art. But will Art seduce her or imprison her?

Newspaper reviews have called this ‘clever, funny, beguiling’ ‘a masterpiece’ and ‘totally delicious’. It’s also been shortlisted for The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. With all that you’d expect this book to be a cracker wouldn’t you? I did, hence me parting with my hard earned cash to get me a copy (okay so I used a book token in Waterstones and technically I only paid £6 for 4 books but that’s just nitpicking!)

So is it the worth my £1.50 and all those accolades? Honestly? No.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, definitely worth £1.50 … But all those accolades? Shortlisted for the Bailey’s prize? Absolutely not. But what’s worse is that it could have been far better. It just needs a really good edit. For a start the prologue needs to be cut – that was so bad I almost didn’t bother reading on, if you get this book then do yourself a favour and skip those 19 pages. It could also do with losing around another hundred pages. This story is told by far too many perspectives, although Hannah Rothschild is a talented character writer. Personally I would cull the ‘voice’ of the painting for a start. It adds no information of value and is quite frankly annoying.

There are some very appealing characters in here though, and the story is entertaining even if it’s a little farcical. There’s a little bit of everything in it, love, pathos, greed, poverty, riches beyond your wildest imaginings and the power of art. It’s been compared to Wodehouse which is maybe a little over-generous but it is amusing.

Overall I’d have to award it 3 Bites, it’s good, just not brilliant.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Elizabeth Peters; ‘Every year another dead body’

Elizabeth Peters was a pen name for Barbara Mertz. Mertz was a prolific author who wrote under three different names because her agent insisted that her reading public would be confused by her other style and genre. Barbara Mertz

As Elizabeth Peters she created a wonderful series of 19 novels around the adventures of fictional archaeologist Amelia Emerson nee Peabody and her unique family. Set in late Victorian times her heroine is cut from the same cloth as Emily Hobhouse (welfare campaigner for Boer women), Florence Nightingale and Emily Pankhurst – intrepid, intractable, intelligent and inquisitive.

The tales begin immediately following the death of her father  when, provided with a reasonable inheritance Miss Peabody sets forth on a trip through Europe to Egypt. Here she develops two passions; one for the history and archaeology of the ancient Pharaohs and the other for the obstreperous, bull headed, brilliant and irresistible Professor Radcliffe Emerson. Together they tunnel their way through one chaotic situation after another. Finding adventure isn’t the only thing that happens;  ‘every year another dead body’ becomes the standing joke as each season’s excavations in Egypt inevitably dig up more than pottery shards and mummies. Croc on sandbank

The books span a period of forty years and encompass many of the political and social changes of the time. Mertz was fascinated with Egyptology and studied it at University and beyond and her depth of knowledge and the love she had for the subject is clearly reflected in the characters. The books are much more than just adventure novels with a good dose of humour thrown in; they are very well crafted and skilfully written. Parasols and Egyptian cats, spies, unrequited love, treasures, politics, fashion and Sherlock Holmes are all part of the amazing tapestry into which the stories are woven . With the stories told mainly from Amelia’s perspective Peters manages to make her annoying, self-righteous, funny, lovable and self-deprecating all at once. When Peters introduces us to the child prodigy that is Ramses, only child of Emerson and Peabody,  I thought at first she had gone too far. The boy seemed to be the embodiment of the worst of both parents and at one point I couldn’t decide who I thought was the more obnoxious – Peabody or her young son! And yet how I laughed, in fact I nearly cried. The character developed and as Ramses grew and matured my heart swelled with motherly pride.

Many reviewers portray Peabody as a female Indiana Jones but I think that rather misses the mark. Instead of disregarding the social mores and limitations imposed upon women in that era she rises above them with aplomb. She uses her wits, her charm and her deep understanding of social behaviours to achieve her ends. She is an astute observer of others but is as often wrong in the conclusions she draws as she is right! Dignified and determined she maintains both her standards and her expectations of others, regardless of whatever adventure she finds herself in. I often think that Dame Maggie Smith and Amelia Peabody would have had a lot in common.

My husband recently had an operation and I introduced him to these while he was recuperating, he loves them. I picked up one just to refresh my memory and ended up reading my way through the whole series again in a month, resulting in serious book hangovers at work….If you long for something refreshing, engrossing, light hearted and yet well crafted pick up the first one in the series “Crocodile On The Sandbank” – just don’t blame me when you end up reading all 19 in a row. And if, when you have finished them, you can distill the qualities that make me so addicted to them, you’ll be as good at ratiocination as Amelia!

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Written In Dead Wax (The Vinyl Detective 1) by Andrew Cartmel

I think any semi-regular reader of this website will be fully aware by now of my deep and abiding love for Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London/PC Grant series. Whilst waiting for the sixth book in the series to come out (due August 25th… not that I’m counting the days or anything…), I have been getting my fix by reading the two comic books in the series, Body Work and Night Witch. Co-written by Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, they are the reason I jumped at the chance to read the latter’s debut novel. I love finding new authors and who better than one so clearly endorsed by one of my favourites!

Vinyl DetectiveThe Vinyl Detective is a record collector.. but you know, a proper one, collecting actual vinyl records (we don’t call them vinyls…) and either adding them them to his extensive collection or flipping them to make enough money to keep his cats in biscuits.
When a mysterious but deeply attractive woman shows up on his doorstep with a commission from an even more mysterious but incredibly wealthy client to find a priceless and lost record, he can’t resist- the search or the woman.
What starts out as a fairly standard and likely to be protracted search turns sinister when one of the record shop owners who has been helping them turns up dead and it becomes clear that they aren’t the only ones searching for this elusive recording….

I thoroughly thoroughly enjoyed this book. Those of you who follow our Facebook feed will already know that I finished it in one sitting of only 3 hours… not bad for a book that is 474 pages long!

The plot takes a little time to get going, but the time spent at the beginning to establish the characters is well spent. There is quite a large cast of characters and I didn’t feel that any were superfluous to the story or shoehorned in for any reason.  The supporting characters were as deftly drawn as the main protagonists and I get the feeling that they are going to appear a lot in the sequels- Cartmel has already written two follow up novels whilst waiting for Written In Dead Wax to be published.

There is an attention to detail in the writing which enhances the story- Cartmel clearly knows his stuff on both jazz and vinyl records as well as the subtle complexities of being a collector of anything and hunting for that hard to find prize. He doesn’t shy away from the more mundane aspects of the search which balances the helter-skelter actions scenes but rather than being boring, as mundane scenes often can be, he injects light comedy into them or uses them as a way to develop the characters.

The story itself is slightly unrealistic but not entirely out of the realms of possibility and after all, we are reading fiction! It is engaging and absorbing, and full of little laugh-out-loud moments. It’s not going to change anyone’s life with its deeply philosophical ideas but its not meant to. It’s meant to give you a few hours of pleasure, a few hours of amusement and it succeeds 100%.

I really want to be able to tell you more about this book but I don’t want to take away from the joy of reading a new and exciting story with new and engaging characters! So really, you should just go and buy it- it was published yesterday!

A very rare 5 bites from me… yes, I enjoyed it that much!

 

NB- I did receive an ARC but all opinions are decidedly my own. And I’m going to be buying this as a present for pretty much all my friends anyway….!

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Lubetkin Legacy by Marina Lewycka

imageMarina Lewycka is best known for writing A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. This book, already shortlisted for the annual Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize (which the Short History won back in 2005) might beat it into the shadows!

It’s set in North London in modern day. Berthold Sidebottom (named for the architect Berthold Lubetkin who his mother hints might be his real father) invites an old Ukrainian lady to move into his mother’s flat with him, after his mother befriended her in the hospital as she lay dying.

This might sound like a mad thing to do but grief makes you mad – as does the chance you might lose your council flat!

His next door neighbour Violet is discovering that her new job in International Wealth Preservation is not as glamourous as it sounds, in fact she feels rather dirty helping ridiculously rich people profit from the poor and avoid paying taxes.  When their flats are threatened by a new development Violet galvanises the residents into action, even the greiving Berthold.

This book is so clever and so so funny. It is multi-layered with a host of multi-faceted characters. It is a love letter to a London that is fast vanishing and a persausive missive to everyone to commit to community spirit.  It’s a keleidoscope – with every twist and turn it shows a different pattern created by the colourful characters, and you’re never sure what pattern will be revealed next.

There are mysteries, drama’s,  romances, crimes, humour, pathos and victories in this book. I fell in love with Victoria and with Berthold’s mum pretty much as soon as I met them, and my creeping sympathy for Berthold grew stronger with every struggle he faced.

Put this review down and go grab yourself this book now!

5 Bites!

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

 

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Bad Analysis by Colin Knight

41aL2YZ5p8L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_When invited to review this novel, my immediate reaction on seeing the cover was one of disappointment, it looked like a “Penny Dreadful” and the plot summary seemed “far-fetched” .

I was wrong, totally and utterly wrong. I made the fundamental error of judging a book by its cover, at my age I should have known better.
The plot summary is: A wealthy, racist, British, aristocrat, with the help of friends in high places, plans to rid Britain of its Muslim population. There are two stages to the plan: First, to secretly fund a massive recruiting drive for the English Defence League, allowing them to become a political force to be reckoned with. Stage two of the plan is to commit a massive act of terrorism that will kill thousands more innocent people than ever before. A carefully laid trail of convincing clues will lead the anti- terrorist squad to a UK based Islamic fundamentalist terrorist cell. The EDL’s calls for mass deportation of Muslims will then have to be taken seriously by the British government.
Yes, it does require a stretch of the imagination to make the plot plausible. But life can be stranger than fiction, who would have thought that terrorists would hijack four commercial airliners and fly them into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon?
Bad Analysis is a brilliant book, superbly written, gripping and fast paced. The hero Craig Wilson is not a macho James Bond type in fact he is a very ordinary family man working as a crypto analysist with The Canadian anti-terrorism squad. He has a gift for interpreting intercepted phone calls and emails. Unfortunately his superiors are bureaucrats, more concerned with office politics than acting on the flights of fancy of their senior analysts. And time is running out.
Colin Knight writes with first-hand knowledge and experience of how anti-terrorist operations work having spent many years in senior positions in the Canadian Police and Security Services. This insider knowledge gives the book the authenticity of LeCarre’s “Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. I loved it.
Five bites from me (But I still think the cover is rubbish).

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Black Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Black-Eyed-Susans-by-Julia-HeaberlinWhen Tessa was seventeen something horrible happened to her. She can’t remember everything, but she remembers being in the grave with the bones of two unknown women and the body of another girl, Meredith. She’s rescued and becomes famous as the only victim to survive the ‘Black-Eyed Susan’s Serial Killer’.

Now, it seems that the man jailed because of her testimony might not be guilty – and the real killer might have just planted black-eyed susans outside her bedroom window…

First off let me start by saying that this isn’t the kind of book I usually read. I will sometimes, but serial killers aren’t generally my bowl of Rice Crispies. So the fact that I read this at all is down to the fact that I saw it everywhere – and when a publishing house spends that much on marketing a book they must REALLY believe in it.

From the first page I was hooked.  Julia Heaberlin knows how to fascinate, the juxtaposing of comforting images, innocent images, celabratory images and grotesque images is too heady a recipe to resist!  Add Tessa’s firey, defensive, protective personality into that and the race against time to save a wrongfully convicted man from Death Row and it’s all out binge time!

I wish I could say I read this in one sitting – I would have done if I hadn’t had to go to work! I was a little disappointed that it seemed fairly obvious out who the real killer was about a quarter of the way through… But there were a couple of red herrings thrown in which were enough to make me doubt myself. Besides the journey was so great I wasn’t always sure I wanted to know who did it! Was the killer who I thought it was? I can’t tell you because I don’t want to spoil it for you!

Despite this rave review I can’t quite bring myself to give it the full 5 bites. That’s only because it didn’t force me to challenge any beliefs or think outside my comfort zone, or leave me feeling like I’d learnt something from it. But don’t let my weird criteria stop you from buying it. It’s a great read!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Painted Ocean By Gabriel Packard

imageThis story, told in the first person, begins with 11 year old Shruti’s father leaving her and her mother. Although she knows she should be devasted she admits that “secretly I preferred it without him, cos it meant I had my mum completely to myself, without having to share her with anyone. And I sort of inherited all the affection she used to give to my dad – like he’d left it behind for me as a gift, to say sorry for deserting me.”

It seems she needs all the maternal affection she can get as life at school is hard, as the only Asian she is bullied and friendless. Also her mother’s family are wrangling to get her to desert Shruti and remarry. Things couldn’t get much worse but Shruti isn’t one to give up too easily and tries everything she can think of to get her mother to stay.

Then Meena arrives at school, a fierce, self-determined girl that instantly takes her place at the top of the school hierarchy. She has a soft spot for Shruti though, and so begins a very lopsided friendship.

I’m not going to pull any punches with this review, this book bloody annoyed me. I feel betrayed by it. We all know that rubbish that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover is impossible to live by, and cover designers and publishing houses sweat blood over getting a stunning cover that portrays something to the reader. They did well here, they produced a cover that sells, it even tells some of the truth about the plot, more than the blurb does. This cover, together with the title promises poetry inside, a story told so beautifully that it’ll break your heart three times over. But it isn’t and it doesn’t.

Instead you get a mess of a book that seems to want to be two very different things at the same time, characters that don’t act the way they should, and ridiculous, unexplained plot twists. Also the fact that Shruti’s voice doesn’t grow up at all even though she goes from an 11 year old to a grown woman is even more insulting.

To be fair, the first half of the book is fine. Not what the cover led me to expect but not bad at all. But once they head to University it all falls apart. I get the feeling that the author thought something more exciting and heartbreaking needed to happen so he hijacked their story, like a boy parachuting an action man into his sister’s game with her barbies.

Not impressed.

2 bites.

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

imageWhen Lois and Carly-May are just twelve years old they’re abducted. They are driven across the country, and imprisoned in a remote, isolated hunting lodge. It soon becomes obvious that their kidnapper has chosen them both very specifically. But why?

Years later, both the girls have tried to move on and forget what happened, they have new lives and new identities. But the memories linger.

Lois, now a professor of literature, has written a work of fiction based on it and her publisher is hassling her for her second book. Meanwhile her first book is about to be made into a film with Carly-May one of its stars. She can’t wait to get to set she wants to see Carly-May for the first time since they were rescued. But she also wants to get away from the obsessive student who reminds her of her kidnapper and is threatening to expose her.

From the blurb I judged this to be a bit of a dime store thriller, I was wrong. This is actually a richly nuanced exploration of the dreams of adolescence, the craving to be important and the consequences or trauma. It’s also a pretty good mystery and the lines of suspense twisted and tangled nicely throughout it.

The characterisations were great, Lois had an odd little habit that was entirely believable and I found it dropping into my mind still weeks after I’d finished the book. I found it fascinating and read it very quickly, well worth picking up!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book from Orion (through NetGalley) in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Follow Me by Angela Clarke

imageAngela Clarke is a chocolate biscuit and social media fanatic, her novel “Follow Me” is as up to the minute as it’s possible to be. The only surprise is that it’s taken crime writers so long to realise that the world of social media is a whole new genre waiting to be exploited.
The plot positively crackles with excitement and carries the readers along with Freddie, an aspiring journalist, as she pits her social media skills against a psychopathic serial killer ‘The Hashtag Murderer’ whose cryptic clues, tweeted on twitter, point to his next victim, taunt the police, and grip the imagination of press and public alike. As the number of the killers followers rises, so does the body count.
Freddie, is down on her luck and forced to work on ‘zero hours’ contract at a fast food outlet, to supplement her virtually non-existent freelance journalism income. She seizes the opportunity to gatecrash a murder scene, in an attempt to make her name with a major scoop. She then finds herself co-opted on to the murder squad, who are in dire need of someone with her social media skills. Freddie finds herself working alongside her childhood best friend Nasreen, now an ambitious police officer. Thrown together in a desperate struggle to catch this social media savvy serial killer, but always one step behind. Can they catch up with him? And can they escape their own dark past? Fast paced, witty and with a convoluted plot this is a book that’s difficult to put down.
Angela Clarke has created a complex and compelling heroine, fascinating but flawed. Freddie is a more believable character than most of the macho males that dominate the word of crime fiction. I will definitely be buying the follow up “Are you Awake?” which is due to be published in 2016
‘Follow Me’ is destined to be the biggest best seller since ‘Girl on a Train’ and in my opinion is in a class above. I would have given this five bites but for the depressing and relentless stereotyping. It would appear that the fashion industry is entirely populated by child molesting coke addicts. that Journalists are all morally bankrupt and the police are, without exception, male chauvinist. If this is a true picture of life in London in the 21st century then it’s not a place I would want to live.
It’s four bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris

imageIt’s rare that I read a book for a second time but “The Hanging Shed” is superbly written, and beautifully paced . Gordon Ferris has the ability to capture the atmosphere and bleak grimness of Glasgow’s immediate post world war II austerity. Combine this with a clever plot numerous twists and turns, a believable and likable hero and you have yourself a cracking good crime novel.
Glasgow 1946. Everyone thought Donovan was dead, shot down in the war. Perhaps it would have been kinder if he had been killed. Instead he was unrecognizable, mutilated and horribly burned. Donovan keeps his own company, only venturing out of his cold cheerless tenement flat to score heroin to deaden the pain of his wounds. When a local boy is found raped and murdered there is only one suspect.
Despite the hideousness of the crime, recently de-mobbed soldier and pre-war policeman Douglas Brodie, now a struggling freelance journalist, and former school friend, feels compelled to answer Donovan’s plea for help. Despite the overwhelming evidence Brodie becomes convinced that Donovan has been framed, and if Donovan is innocent, then who is the real pedophile and murderer?
As the plot unfolds it becomes clear that there is far more to this vile crime than meets the eye. Why are the police reluctant to investigate every aspect of the case? What have the legal establishment got to hide? Why is the church playing a double game? All this against a background of poverty, violence and Glasgow’s Razor Gang wars and the IRA.
I enjoyed the fact that this is written in the first person, this gives the novel a sense of immediacy and urgency. There are some amusing touches: Who has ever read of a car chase where the hero is worried he may not have enough petrol coupons to carry on the chase? There is also a nice little romantic sub plot to lighten matters when the bleakness looks set to become overwhelming, after all this novel is set in 1946 and death by hanging was still the penalty for murder.

Five bites again

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Feature Friday – Serial Detectives

dalzielIt is funny how rarely my viewing tastes and my reading tastes coincide. There is nothing I like more on the television than a serial detective with some real character – my absolute favourites being the late great, gruff Warren Clarke as the grumpy Dalziel and kindly, untidy David Jason as Jack Frost. Yet when it comes to reading I find that I rarely go for serial detectives – somehow the balance between plot, detail and character often fails to excite me. However, there are three who have managed to get right under my skin. So let me share my favourites with you by starting, in reverse order, with the famous Sherlock Holmes.

I grew up on Conan Doyle’s tales of this inimitable man. A man so analytical and observant that he could ascertain your domestic status, profession and place of residence, simply by the condition of your clothes and ‘toilette’. His experimentation with chemistry, his encyclopaedic knowledge and his acute observation made himbook holmes brilliant in my eyes, but it was the solace he found in playing the violin together with his occasional, less socially acceptable behaviours, that revealed him as a man at odds with his own feelings. As a child I realised from these stories that it is often the flaws a character displays that makes them more appealing. At over 120 years old his many adventures with Watson have truly stood the test of time. They have been recreated numerous times through films, series and plays. Sherlock’s character has been discussed, analysed and re-invented endlessly and each depiction of the great man has something creditworthy about it. However nothing beats the ‘mind’s eye’ and I would recommend that you keep a volume of the original short stories on a shelf – for those occasions when you are short of time but want a complete read.

A couple of years ago I would have put this next detective in first place. The Jackson Brodie series, by Kate Atkinson had me hooked straight away, but just like marmite it seems these books are either loved or hated. one good turnIf you read detective novels because you like a clearly defined plot then these definitely aren’t for you! Brodie is an ex policeman turned private detective who has a chequered past. Divorced and rather a poor judge of women his attachment to his daughter is key to his softer side. I always get the feeling that he is a man who grew a conscience later in life and now feels compelled to act although he knows it will inevitably go wrong. The storyline mixes up seemingly random incidents and apparently unconnected crimes. Various characters, some skilfully drawn and some deliberately clichéd, are thrown into the mix. In the later books these other characters hold the stories together and sometimes it seems that Brodie is little more than a walk on part. Life is portrayed as messy, often bleak and sometimes brutal and occasionally the tone of a book veers too closely towards the malicious and depressing despite the touches of humour; but somehow I always admire Brodie’s moral compass – case historieseven when I don’t particularly like him!

The television adaptations avoided much of the darkness in the books and Jason Isaacs portrayed Brodie in a likeable way that I was quite comfortable with.

 

My all-time favourite literary detective turns out not to be British but Canadian. Two years ago I picked up a second hand copy of ‘Bury your Dead’ by Canadian writer Louise Penny. I hadn’t read any of her previous works and was unaware that there were several earlier instalments in this remarkable series. Her writing is fluent and evocative and captures the beauty of Quebec, the piercing cold of the Canadian winters and the timelessness of the old village of Three Pines in haunting detail. Before I had finished that one book I how light gets inwas hunting down the rest of the series.

Our hero is Chief Inspector Armande Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec. Wise, worldly and honest, he longs for a simple life, but it isn’t the homicides he has to investigate that prevent him from enjoying one, it is the Sûreté. Gamache’s loyal team are as important to the stories as he is and they reveal more of their characters, their strengths and their failings with each case they investigate, and their personalities are gradually rounded out by their reactions to the forces that threaten them. Gamache comes across as a deep thinker who says little but feels much and who has incredible compassion for the eccentrics, the forgotten and the bury your deaddamaged, he most definitely doesn’t judge a book by its cover. My image of Gamache, his team and the village of Three Pines is so detailed that I could not bear to have it ruined and I have avoided all links to the film that has been made of the first novel.

Penny has written 11 books in the series, each one focusing on a different murder or disappearance. The books have a strong timeline and woven subtly through the series are references to a subplot that gradually takes shape and which ultimately explodes seriously damaging  the Sûreté, Gamache and his team. I would rate each novel in the series as a minimum 4 bite and several as the full 5 bite.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.