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Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

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I picked up this book because I had heard lots of good things about it, and because despite the fact that fantasy is not, and never has been a favourite genre of mine, the premise intrigued me.

The story is set in London and is narrated by Peter Jones, a young PC in the Metropolitan Police Service. This strange tale starts when he is trying to glean information about a vicious and unprovoked murder, only to find himself interviewing a witness who died more than a hundred years ago…

More murders follow and Jones and his partner Lesley and mentor Thomas Nightingale quickly work out that they are all linked, and something strange and unusual is causing them.

As if that weren’t enough, Peter and Nightingale also find themselves caught up in a feud between Mother Thames and Father Thames, who are arguing over who has jurisdiction of their River Thames; as a result, Peter meets the exotic and alluring Beverley Brook.

I enjoyed this book a lot – but not quite as much as I had hoped to, or indeed quite as much as the first fifty pages or so led me to think I might. I really liked the characters of Peter and Nightingale, and as narrators go, Peter is witty, likeable and extremely engaging. However, I think the plot got a bit too convoluted, mainly because the feud over the River Thames seemed pointless and really added nothing whatsoever to the main mystery, which was that of the murders. The  murders themselves were quite interesting and I liked that Peter had a foot in both the mortal world and the underworld of London where he could learn magic and make deals with ghosts.

So despite feeling that it was something of an anti-climax, the main two characters are enough for me to want to try the next book in the series. I also find that generally with series such as this one, the first book is never the strongest. This book has had very strong reviews elsewhere, so if you are thinking of reading it – and especially if fantasy is a genre you enjoy (bearing in mind that it is not one I usually choose to read) I would recommend giving this a try.

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I honestly can’t remember whether I actually read these books – more commonly known as Alice in Wonderland, I guess due to the 1951 Disney film, which is an amalgamation of both of the Alice books – or whether the stories and characters are just so well known that I feel like I’ve read them.

Either way, I recently bought the dark retelling and continuation ‘Alice’ by Christina Henry, and decided to read the originals before reading this newer release. For anyone who has lived under a rock for their whole lives, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland tells the story of the strange encounters a young girl called Alice has when she falls down a rabbit hole and ends up in Wonderland. There she meets such characters as the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat. In Through the Looking Glass, Alice steps through a mirror and ends up in a strange world where she meets the Red Queen and the White Queen, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and many other characters.

I have mixed feelings about these stories. On the one hand, I am not really the target audience anyway and I feel I should take that into account. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Carroll was both imaginative and intelligent. The stories are quite fantastical, and Through the Looking Glass includes several clever verses, one of which is the famous Jabberwocky poem.

For all that though…I can’t say I really enjoyed reading the book (I read one book which contained both stories). I definitely preferred the first one, but I got a little bored with Through the Looking Glass, and consequently took far longer to read it than I would have expected. Maybe it’s because fantasy – which I guess this book probably could be classed as – is not a favourite genre of mine; maybe it’s because as I say, I am not the target audience; maybe it’s just that no book can resonate with every reader.

I would not want to put anyone else off reading the book – it is after all a much-loved classic, so really what does my opinion matter? – but on a personal level, I felt a little disappointed by it. I still look forward to reading the Christina Henry book though!

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The third instalment of the Miss Fisher series starts with Phryne Fisher waking up on a train to discover that she and her fellow passengers have been chloroformed. After raising the alarm it is discovered that an elderly lady, Mrs Henderson, is missing from the train and is subsequently found dead. The honorable Miss Fisher is soon on the case, but the plot thickens when a young girl who was on the train is brought to her having lost her memory. Now Phryne is not only trying to discover who killed Mrs Henderson, but also where the girl has come from and what has happened to her to cause her to forget everything…

As with the previous two Miss Fisher novels, there is a great sense of fun in this book. However, there is a sinister undercurrent, which deals with the trafficking of young girls and a gruesome murder. The author does traverse this tightrope well though – conveying the characters’ (and by extension the readers’) disgust at the treatment of the girls, while still allowing Phryne’s sense of adventure and her liberated attitude towards sex to come through.

An enjoyable and for the most part undemanding and enjoyable read – if you like ‘cosy’ murder mysteries I would recommend the Phryne Fisher series. However, if complex character studies and intricate plots are more your thing, this series may well annoy you. I like these books very much, reading them as I do, sandwiched between other books.

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The book starts on the night of an auction, when a long-lost and recently rediscovered painting by famous artist Antoine Watteau is being sold. The prospective buyers are introduced to the reader, and it is clear that there is a huge buzz surrounding this painting.

Cut to six months earlier, when a young lady named Annie McDee, who has no idea whatsoever about art, is looking for a gift for her new boyfriend, and stumbles across a painting in a junk shop. She buys it but has no idea of the adventure that this painting will lead her to. It is also clear that there are others who would dearly love to get their hands on this painting for more nefarious reasons, and at least one person is desperate to get it in order to stop a dark secret being exposed – and he is prepared to go to any lengths to achieve his goal.

I bought this book more or less on a whim, and picked it up to read with not particularly high hopes. However, I have to say that I found it utterly delightful and I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. Annie is a great character for the story to hinge upon – she has no idea of the picture’s history and significance, so she discovers it at the same time as the reader does. She is a hugely likeable character and very easy to identify with. I also really liked Jesse, the young artist who helps her in discovering the history of the painting, while quite obviously falling for her at the same time.

There are a lot of other characters – if this book was turned into a film, it would need a large cast! – but skilful writing means that it never gets confusing. I also loved the fact that occasional chapters were even narrated by the painting itself – it sounds kooky and gimmicky, but somehow it works.

It’s a great story, imaginative, often funny and very sweet and intriguing – I highly recommend this book, and will definitely look out for more by this author.

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This third book in Agatha Christie’s Poirot series is actually a collection of eleven (fourteen in the American book) short stories, all unconnected save for the fact that they all relate mysteries that Poirot solved, and all are narrated by his friend Captain Hastings.

I enjoyed the book and as with all other Christie books that I have read so far, I zipped through it fairly quickly. However – and this is just personal preference – while I don’t mind reading short stories sometimes, I generally prefer a full-length novel, which gives chance for more character and plot development. That said, Christie always seems to focus more on the plot than the characters – Poirot after all remains unchanged in the three books I have read which feature him, as does Captain Hastings. And despite preferring longer stories on the whole, I would still recommend this for Poirot fans.

It’s fair to say that while most of the plots were very clever, Poirot’s ability to solve them does stretch the imagination somewhat. He manages to solve one mystery without even being there! He is laid up in bed with flu so sends along Hastings to be his eyes and ears, but it is Poirot that works out the truth behind the matter. This explains Poirot’s huge ego and arrogance, which somehow only serve to make me like him more!

In all short story collections there will be some that the reader prefers over others, and these will probably vary from reader to reader. There were none that I didn’t enjoy, but for my money the best ones were:

The Adventure of the Western Star – A film star receives demanding letters requesting a particular diamond which her husband brought her for their wedding. She enlists Poirot’s help in finding out who is behind the letters.

The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan – a lady staying at the Grand Metropolitan Hotel, has a beautiful and valuable piece of jewellery stolen. Suspicion falls upon the chambermaid and the lady’s own personal maid, and it is up to Poirot to get to the bottom of the matter.

The Disappearance of Mr Davenheim – a banker goes missing and Poirot is immediately on the case.

The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman – Count Foscatini, an Italian nobleman is brutally murdered, and the hunt is on for the only two men who could have done it. But of course the truth is much stranger than imagined…

Overall, an enjoyable, undemanding and diverting read.

 

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This book centres around three women – Alexandra, Sukie and Jane – who live in the fictional Rhode Island town of Eastwick in the early 1970s. They are all divorced and/or widowed, and they all just happen to be witches. Their close friendship is threatened by the arrival in town of the base, bawdy, but hugely charismatic Darryl Van Horne. And…that’s about it. More does happen, but the storyline here is really pretty slow, centering more on the interactions between the main characters.

I must confess that this was not what I expected it to be at all. Having recently watched the film again for the first time in years, I expected the book to be of much the same tone – quirky, funny and colourful. It wasn’t, and while it did eventually draw me in somewhat, quite often I found myself looking for something else to do rather than pick up the book, and certain parts did feel really tedious.

I didn’t find any of the characters believable, although to an extent maybe they weren’t meant to be. Indeed out of the three women, the only vaguely likeable one was Alexandra (until it was revealed that she had used a spell to kill a puppy out of sheer spite; that takes some getting past). The prose was undoubtedly eloquent in places, but I always felt that Updike was inserting descriptions where they weren’t required, and was forever flying off at tangents.

The fact that the three women were witches – and were not the only witches in Eastwick – was not treated as particularly surprising to other members of the community, although it was repulsive to some of them, and some of the things that happened because of their spells (such as unusual items coming out of people’s mouths while they were talking). There was not an awful lot of humour in the story, but a lot of simmering malice. In short, for me this book was something of a let-down. I can sort of see why some people would love it, and there were flashes of great enjoyment sandwiched between the weirdness, but as it turned out I was just relieved to get to the end of this one.

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This book is the second in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and revolves around not one, but two mysteries. The book opens with Phryne meeting a new client – a nervous lady who is convinced that her son is going to murder his father and she wants Phryne to intervene to stop this. When the father does indeed turn up dead shortly afterwards, Bill the son is naturally the main suspect.

The second mystery is the kidnapping of a young girl, whose parents engage Phryne to retrieve their daughter and return her to safety.

Naturally Phyrne, along with her friends Bert and Cec, and trusty maid Dot not only investigates the crimes, but investigates them with panache and cunning, and all while wearing a beautiful wardrobe and seducing a couple of rather gorgeous men!

I think I probably enjoyed this book marginally more than the first one (I gave the first one 3.5 out of 5, I’d give this one 4), which bodes well for the rest of the series. It is an undemanding read, sprinkled with humour and with enough twists to keep the reader interested. As ever, Phryne is loveable, exasperating and stubborn. Fans of the TV series should note that Jack Robinson hardly appears in this book (and in any event, he is entirely different in the show, not to mention still firmly married to his wife) and the main police officer in the story is Detective Inspector Benton.

Another enjoyable instalment from a series that I look forward to continuing to read.

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