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Archive for December, 2009

This is the story of three generations of one family.  Charlotte Cooper is 17, about to do her A levels, and suddenly discovers she’s pregnant.  Her mother Karen is furious with her, not least because she had Charlotte at the age of 16, and has always tried to stop her daughter making the same “mistakes” that she did.  But it’s not long before Karen finds something out which makes her question her role in her family and wonder whether there isn’t a better life waiting for her somewhere.  Meanwhile, Karen’s mother, Nancy Hesketh, who lives with them, is slowly succumbing to dementia, which is causing all sorts of chaos.  But when she’s not posting her grandaughter’s homework in the toaster, or hiding letters under the sofa, she reminisces silently about her life.

This is a very enjoyable and undemanding read.  The multiple narrators (Charlotte, Karen and ‘Nan’) ensure that we see events from each point of view – although Nan’s contributions are generally short and relate to the past rather than the present situation.  The main body of the story is told through Karen and Charlotte’s narration.

All of the three main characters are believeable.  The constant locking of horns between Charlotte and her mother will also have many teenagers and parents of teenagers nodding in recognition!  The story is touchingly told, and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as well.

My only niggle with this book was the ending seemed rushed, almost as if the author had said what she wanted to say and just wanted to end the book quickly, and a few smaller aspects of the story did not seem completely resolved.  But overall, this is a good book – probably aimed more at the female market – and one which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Holly Krauss is beautiful and vivacious.  She has a happy marriage and runs a successful company with her friend Meg. It seems that Holly has it all.  But there is another side to her – a side that sees her putting herself into danger, and being reckless and thoughtless.  Her actions cause problems which just keep mounting and Holly suddenly finds herself in danger.  But she finds that she cannot trust her own judgement any longer, and even those she is closest to seem to be losing patience with her.  If Holly can’t rely on herself, then who can she rely on to catch her when she falls? And just because she is paranoid, does that mean that nobody is really after her?

I have always liked Nicci French’s novels, and this one, like the others, is an entertaining read, which had me wanting to “just read a few more pages” and then just a few more…

Holly is an interesting if not altogether likeable character.  While I sympathised with her and could see how people might be drawn to such a person, I also found myself becoming increasingly exasperated with her actions – particularly when she seemed to be ignorant of the obvious consequences which were bound to result.  However, I think that that was probably deliberate on the writers’ part.

Through Holly’s narrative, we see her world through her eyes, and how things start to fall apart for her.  Her loyal friend Meg tries to help and it seems that only she and Charlie – Holly’s husband – can pick up the pieces.  It is not clear at first whether Holly’s increasing paranoia is due to her own state of mind, and like Holly, the reader is not sure who to trust.

This is an undemanding read, despite the subject matter.  The action moves along at a rapid pace and did keep me wanting to know what was going to happen.  However, I was disappointed by the ending, which seemed to deliver almost as many questions as answers.  I actually wondered if there were another couple of pages at the back which I had missed.

All in all though, this is an entertaining psychological thriller, and I would recommend it to fans of the genre.  Not the author’s best book (I thought Beneath the Skin and Killing Me Softly were both much better), but still definitely worth reading.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Todd McCray is a developmentally challenged young man, but he has a happy life with his loving parents, George and Mary Anne, on a farm in rural Kansas. When Todd hears about the local animal shelter campaign to adopt a dog for Christmas, he pesters his parents to adopt a new pet for the yuletide period. It’s not long before Todd starts getting other residents interested in the scheme, and soon the whole community learns a few lessons about giving and sharing.

I loved this book, which I would describe as a fable of sorts.  It is short (176 pages) and a very easy read, which would be suitable for people of all ages. For the Christmas period, it is a lovely festive read which made me feel all warm and mushy!

In his acknowledgements, Greg Kincaid describes himself as a novice to the trade of writing.  If this shows in this book, it is only to good effect.  Rather than wasting time with theatrical and overly dramatic writing, he simply gets on and tells the story.  No spare words are used and none are needed – the story tells itself.

For a comforting read guaranteed to make you smile, this book is ideal – at any time of year.  (There is a film adaptation being made, which I will be watching with interest!)

Overall, I gave this book 4 out of 5 – not for the writing itself, but for the sheer enjoyment of the story.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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When teenage girl Catherine Ross is found murdered in Shetland, suspicion immediately falls upon loner Magnus Tait. Residents of the secluded village of Ravenswick have not forgotten another young girl who disappeared eight years earlier and who was never found.  Magnus had been arrested – although never charged – for that crime.  In this instance, the dead girl had only moved to Shetland six months earlier and was considered something of an outsider. Inspector Jimmy Perez is the Officer assigned to the case, together with a team from Inverness. Perez, who is also considered an outsider of sorts, due to his name and swarthy appearance is determined to get to the bottom of the matter, and doesn’t want to simply blame the most obvious suspect without proper proof.

As he digs deeper into the lives of the residents and starts to uncover secrets, it soon becomes clear that there are several people who may have had the motive and opportunity to kill Catherine…

This is the first in a series of four books set in Shetland and featuring Inspector Perez.  I enjoyed it greatly and will definitely be reading the three further books.  The writing flowed easily and I did genuinely find the book hard to put down.

There were several characters who I felt could have been the prospective murderer, but it did keep me guessing until the very end.  As one would expect there were red herrings and a few subtle clues thrown in along the way – but knowing which was which was not easy!

I have not been Shetland so couldn’t say how accurate the portrayal of life there was.  However, the book certainly created an atmosphere of isolation and mistrust, and painted a picture of a place where everyone thought they knew everyone else’s business.

I have to say that the characterisation was not brilliant.  Perez is well drawn and a very likeable character, but apart from that the character who was brought most vividly to life was ironically, Catherine Ross.  Most of the other characters were rather stereotyped, especially the males.  However, this is definitely a plot driven, rather than character driven book, and the plot was enough to keep me hooked!  I did not predict the ending at all, although I thought I had on a number of occasions!

Despite the subject, this was an absorbing read and one that it would be easy to lose yourself in for a few hours. Recommended, especially to fans of crime fiction.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is the story of Lakshmi, a young Ceylonese girl brought to Malaya in 1930, as the young bride of an older man, and her children and grandchildren.

Lakshmi narrates the first part of the book, where she explains about her childhood and how she is tricked into marriage, but then goes on to have six children.  The baton is then passed between various characters as we witness events from their individual points of view and learn how the tragedy that befell Lakshmi’s family haunted the further generations.  The book ends up in the current day, and as a result the reader is presented with details of the a changing country, and learns how WWII shaped and changed the lives of so many.

To give away much more of the plot would be to start revealing spoilers, but suffice to say that this is an enchanting and moving read.  The narrators all have their own distinct personalities and perceptions of various events and each other.  Some parts were harrowing to read as people struggled with the effects of the war, made wrong decisions and lived with regret.  Lakshmi is the matriarch of this family and her strength, intelligence and determination are clear for all to see.

Malay(si)a is brought to vivid life, and I felt able to really imagine the place with all it’s vibrancy and energy.  Towards the end, the language did become a little bit ‘flowery’ and I felt that the book was perhaps slightly too long, although it packed a lot into it’s pages and certainly never got boring.

This was the debut novel by this author and very impressive it is too.  I will be seeking out further work by Rani Manicka.

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In what was a departure for Sarah Waters after three (extremely popular) Victorian novels, this book is set during and around the time of WWII.  It tells the story of four characters – Kay; a lonely woman, tired of life and love; Viv, a young beauty who is loyal to her Soldier lover, despite her reservations; Helen, Viv’s colleague who is harbouring troubling thoughts about her relationship; and Duncan, Viv’s younger brother who has been through some troubling times.

Sarah Waters employs an unusual plot device in splitting the book into three parts which move backwards chronologically.  The first part is set in 1947, when England is recovering from war, and we watch the characters moving through their lives. The second part is set in 1944, at the height of WWII, and the first part is set in 1941. (However, each individual section moves forward and tells the events of a few weeks or months in the characters’ lives.)  The second and third parts start to fill in the blanks in their lives so that we discover how they came to find themselves in the situations they are in at the beginning (or the end) of the novel.

Every character – even the peripheral ones – is described wonderfully so that the reader really feels that they have come to know these people.  They are decent characters, but each with their very personal and believeable flaws. 1940s London is also portrayed very vividly and beautifully, with the ravaged city almost being a fifth main character.

I have always thought that Sarah Waters is a wonderful and very talented novelist – this book serves to confirm my opinion further.  I found myself anxious to know how the story turned out, and it held my attention completely. Highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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