Archive for February, 2010

This is the 4th book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, which follows the life of Precious Ramotswe, private detective, as she tries to unravel the mysteries presented to her in her work, and deal with life outside of the office.

In this slice of Mma Ramotswe’s life, she attempts to track down two people from the past of one of her client’s life.  He feels that he treated these people badly, and now wants to make amends, and Precious will have to use all of her tact and skills to find them.  At the same time, she is also coping with the threat of competition, when a new detective agency is set up in the village and the manager, the brash Mr Buthelizi makes his presence known.  And when Precious’s assistant, Mma Makutsi finds romance, the relationship brings all sorts of complications with it…

As always is the case with this series, this story is told gently and with plenty of wry humour.  Throughout it all, Mma Ramotswe’s compassion and strong morals shine through, and her love for Botswana is clear.

Throughout the books, the characters are fully fleshed out and I found myself caring about what happened to them, and enjoying reading about their lives. Mma Makutsi is a great foil to Mma Ramotswe, being less tactful and more direct.

There is plenty of humour in the story, and I read it with a smile on my face. These books tell of a gentle way of life, of people who genuinely care about their country and their companions, and they have a wonderful cast of core characters.  I look forward to reading the 5th book in this lovely set.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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In Baltimore in the 1860s, Roger Button welcome their son Benjamin into the world…but there is something very strange about him. Benjamin is born with the body and mind of a 70 year old man, which is naturally very disturbing to his parents. They eventually realise that he is aging backwards, and as he gets older, he actually becomes younger! In his prime of life when he appears to be a handsome man of 50 (but in truth is in his 20s), he meets a woman named Hildegarde and falls in love with her. But how can a man who becomes more like a child while his wife becomes more like an old lady ever really be happy?

I read this book in about an hour, and thought it was a lovely story. As it was a short story, there was less characterisation than there would be in a full length novel, but nonetheless, Benjamin evoked sympathy and the story held my attention from the first word, as I found myself wanting to know how his tale would end.

The writing is wonderful – evocative and descriptive, and the problems which a man with Benjamin’s condition would face were well portrayed. This book definitely made me want to read more by the author. My only complaint is that it ended too quickly! Highly recommended.

(For more information on the author, please click here.)

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This book is a definite return to form after the disappointing True Confessions. In this episode of Adrian’s life, he is 24 years old, and living in a box room in the flat of Pandora Braithwaite and her husband(!) However, he spends much of the book being bounced from one home to another.

He also encounters a new love interest named Bianca, jealousy over the success of his old adversary Barry Kent, and the trials of trying to finish his own novel ‘Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland’.

This book is what all Adrian Mole books should be – funny, touching and surprisingly perceptive on behalf of the author, while Adrian himself still displays his usual signs of self-delusion. Very enjoyable indeed.

(For more information on the Adrian Mole series, please click here.)

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Manon Gaudet is an unhappy housewife in the early 19th century.  Married at a young age to a Louisiana sugar plantation owner who is brutal and cruel, she longs for a way out of her life and wishes she could return to her home town of New Orleans.  Her housemaid Sarah is a young black woman, whose child is proof of Manon’s husband’s unfaithfulness.

These are dangerous times for Sarah and her husband, with many of the slaves rebelling against their white employers (or owners, as slaves are considered to be property of the household) and while the threat of violence and murder is around the corner, Manon has to worry about where Sarah’s loyalties will lie if the insurrection reaches their home…

This book is certainly well written.  The writing is clean and stark and the story – told from Manon’s point of view, is related without emotion.  It certainly brought to life a period of history which was shocking and disturbing, and I felt that both the era and the lifestyle of the characters was very well described.

Characterisation was stark – as Manon is the narrator, it is probably no surprise that she is the most fleshed out character of all.  However, I felt that Manon’s husband, and their slave Sarah were also extremely believable.

Overall, this was a quick read, but certainly made me think. It is  an excellent portrayal of life in turbulent times, and certainly is a book that will linger in the mind long after the final page has been turned.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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It is the mid-1950s, and England is recovering from the ravages of the second world war.  Penelope Wallace is 18 years old, and on the verge of a new and exciting life which starts when she encounters a girl named Charlotte, who quickly becomes Penelope’s best friend.  Together with Charlotte’s sardonic and sarcastic cousin Harry, Penelope and Charlotte become involved in a whirlwind of parties and dinners, and things take an unusual turn when Henry asks Penelope to do him a huge favour.

In the midst of all this, Penelope has to deal with her beautiful mother, who is still grieving over the loss of her husband to the war; a once grand house that is now falling to rack and ruin, and her unrequited love for the pop singer Johnnie Rae…

I enjoyed this book very much.  One of the reviews on the back of my copy states that if Jane Austen were alive now, this is the kind of book she would be writing, and I would tend to agree with that.  it is a very charming story, and while it is not altogether unpredictable (although there were certainly a few surprises along the way), the real beauty of this story lies in the characters. The main characters are Penelope, Charlotte, Harry, Inigo (Penelope’s brother), Talitha (her mother) and Charlotte’s Aunt Clare.  Each and every one of them is well drawn and very believable.  Moreover, they are characters who I came to really enjoy getting to know throughout the story.

The writing is lovely – clean and never over fussy, but still managing to describe perfectly the time period in which the book is set, and the old house which the Wallace family live in (where a lot of the story is set).

It is also very amusing in parts – the author has a sharp eye for wit, and infuses her narrator (Penelope) with a wry sense of humour.

I’m not a huge fan of chick-lit, but if this book falls into that category, it certainly is one of the best examples I have read of this genre.  It’s perfect for curling up with on a cold day and losing yourself in for a couple of hours.  I will certainly be looking out for more work by this author.

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This is the third book in the Adrian Mole series, but unlike the others, it is only partly in diary form.  His story is interspersed with letters to Barry Kent (now incarcerated) and his broadcasts on Radio 4 which show off his customary delusion and visions of grandeur.  Also included in the book are the funny diaries of a teenage girl in the 1930s, named Margaret Hilda Roberts.  It is obvious to the reader that these are supposed to be the diaries of the young Margaret Thatcher – these parts are particularly cruel and witty, and were actually my favourites parts of the book overall.  The book also has a collection of essays by Sue Townsend, the main one being her recollection of a trip to Russia which she took with six other writers.  Unlike the Adrian Mole and Hilda Roberts section, this part is non-fiction.

Unfortunately, this book was not up to the standard of the Adrian Mole books which preceded it.  The book is only about 160 pages, and Mole’s section is 90 or so pages – yet it covers 5 years of his life, and effectively acts as a bridge between the book which comes before it and the one which comes after it.  As ever, Adrian indulges in a fair amount of navel gazing, and swooning over his beloved Pandora, but this episode of his life did not grab me as much as the others I have read did.

I was not over enamoured with the essays by Sue Townsend.  Her writing flowed well, and there were some moments which made me smile, but it felt like ‘filler’ material, added to pad the book out. The diaries of Margaret Hilda Roberts however, were very funny, and it’s a shame that this was such a small segment.  Townsend shows her satirical side portraying Margaret as a haughty and snobbish schoolgirl, with am admiration for capitalist beliefs and an active dislike of the working class.

Overall, a less than satisfying episode of Adrian Mole’s life, but I would have loved to have seen the diaries of Margaret Hilda Roberts developed into a full length book.

(For more information on the Adrian Mole series, please click here.)

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Dawn French is of course well known as one half of the comedy duo French and Saunders (Jennifer Saunders is in fact the “Fatty” referred to in the book’s title). This is Dawn’s biography of sorts – it is told in the form of various letters to people who have played some role in her life.

Many of the letters are written to her father who committed suicide when Dawn was just 19 years old.  The memories of him and his love have clearly been a huge force in her life and she writes honestly and openly about the good and the bad times she spent with him.  Other letter recipients include her mother, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn’s husband Lenny (Henry), her Best Friend (BF, whose name is never revealed in the book), old schoolfriends, Val Doonican, Madonna and The Monkees.

Some parts of the book read better than others.  The earlier letters, which more or less chart Dawn’s childhood and early family life were not as interesting as the later ones, which tell her life from the age of about 20.

Family is clearly of huge importance to her – when she writes about her parents, husband and daughter and her brother, the love comes shining through and is genuinely touching.  I admired her honesty in talking about a rough patch her marriage went through – she described her whole gamut of emotions, from anger to fear to forgiveness in a way that was easy to empathise with.  Another letter which actually moved me to tears (and highlighted the perils of reading while waiting in a supermarket queue) was the one to her friend Scottie, who died of AIDS – yet she juxtaposes the sadness with a hilarious tale about her mission to scatter Scottie’s ashes in the location he had intended.

Comic relief (no pun intended) is provided through a number of her letters to Madonna (who repeatedly refused to appear on the French and Saunders show) and doting-schoolgirl missives to The Monkees and David Cassidy.  I also enjoyed reading about the early days of the Comic Strip, and her work on The Vicar of Dibley.

Overall, after a slow start, this was an enjoyable read, which perfectly illustrated the warmth and humour for which Dawn French is so much admired and loved.

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God has decided to see the suffering in Darfur for himself, and to do so, he takes on the form of a young Dinka woman, who is caught up in the war.  In assuming this form, God has also to take on the mortality and frailties of humans, and is killed in the conflict. When his real identity is uncovered, the news that God is dead spreads throughout the globe, causing civil unrest, anarchy, wars and the breakdown of society.

This book is less a novel, and more a series of vaguely interlinked stories about how the world reacts to God’s death.  Certain parts tell what life was like after the initial hysteria following the news died down, but all of the tales tell a story of how ordinary lives were affected.

The writing is imaginative, and the stories which unfold in this tale are disturbing, satirical, ironic and at times very amusing.  The author seems to shine a light on human flaws and strengths and shows the sort of behaviour that people will display in times of terror and uncertainty.

The book flowed easily, and although the stories within it are only loosely linked, it never felt disjointed – I realised that I was reading big chunks in almost no time at all.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially to fans of dystopian fiction.

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Michael Harrison, a rich and successful property developer, is on his stag night with four of his best friends.  As a prank, and to pay Michael back for the pranks which he played on some of them on their stag nights, they bury him in a coffin in the woods, with the intention of coming back for him a couple of hours later.  However, his friends are then killed in a horrific traffic accident (this all happens in the first few pages).  The walkie talkie which the friends left with Michael is found by a young lad who does not apparently have the capabilities to help, and nobody else apparently knows where Michael is.  The day after the stag night, with Michael still missing, his distraught fiancee Ashley Harper contacts the Police and the case falls into the hands of Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, a man still battling his own demons after the unsolved disappearance of his wife eight years earlier.

Grace and his colleagues try to find Michael – seemingly an impossible task.  They don’t know if he is in danger, but they don’t want to take any chances…meanwhile, time is running out for Michael.  With no food or water and no way of attracting help, he is getting desperate.  And the one person who should be able to help seems intent on remaining silent…

This book certainly grabbed me from the first page, with an explosive – if slightly implausible (would anybody really think that burying a friend alive is a good idea for a stag night prank?) – opening.  Although the book takes place over a short period of time, it moves quickly and I never got bored.

The chapters are short and choppy, and although it is told in the third person, the point of view of all the characters are shown.  I did find myself turning the pages quickly and always wanting to read “just another chapter.”  There are twists and turns aplenty, making it hard to guess how things were going to turn out.

Roy Grace is a great character – sympathetic and intuitive, and it was easy to warm to him and understand his thoughts and frustrations.  However, apart from this, I did think the characterisation was thin; most of the rest of the characters were very stereotyped.  However, as this is the first book in a series, some of the roles of Grace’s colleagues may be expanded on in future books.  As with most crime stories, this book is driven by the plot rather than by the characters, so the fact that most roles were not very fleshed-out did not detract very much from my enjoyment.

There were also some rather fantastical plot developments, so the story wasn’t entirely believable, but I was able to suspend disbelief enough for this not to bother me.

Overall, this is an undemanding read, and one which I found hard to put down.  I would certainly be interested in reading further books in the series.  Ideal for a holiday read (despite the subject matter), and one I would recommend to fans of Ian Rankin or Peter Robinson.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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