Posts Tagged ‘book review’

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell

Posted in Proofs on May 22nd, 2016 by admin – Be the first to comment



Maggie O’Farrell is not one to sit on her laurels nor is she one of those authors who stick to tried and tested formulas because they worked in the past. Open a new Maggie O’Farrell and you will only be assured of one thing, this lady can write beautifully and engagingly but she’s full of surprises.

One of my all-time favourite songs is This Must Be the Place, that absolute gem of a love song by Talking Heads with searingly simple lyrics,
“Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home and,
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead”

It’s about love and finding home with another person and maybe it’s right in front of you and you can’t see it. I don’t even know if this novel has any connection with David Byrne’s lyrics but Maggie O’Farrell’s prose just reaches inside my chest and reproduces the same heartrending effect.

Daniel O’Sullivan is an expert linguist, working with language every day, but he just can’t find the right words to communicate his feelings to those he loves. The author takes us on a journey across oceans and through the experiences of many different characters before Daniel reaches any kind of conclusion…if he ever does! If you don’t have the energy or inclination to focus on multiple characters and time frames then this might not be for you. The narrative requires quite a bit of focus and concentration but if you get on board you’ll have the ride of your life!

A few years ago, I introduced my book group members to Maggie O’Farrell’s writing. Suffice to say, they’re chomping at the bit to get their teeth into this one. Highly recommended.

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The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Proofs on March 1st, 2013 by admin – 5 Comments

The Last Runaway


HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

New Books Magazine

My Rating - 4.5 stars

Tracy Chevalier is one of  my favourite authors and she has a way of making history come alive in her novels which have subjects as diverse as Vermeer and fossils.  In The Last Runaway she switches her focus to America, in particular 1850s Ohio where the young English Quaker, Honor Bright starts a new life very different to her quiet upbringing in Dorset, England.

It is a time of great upheaval in America as the country inches towards civil war with a variety of runaways, both black slaves and white settlers, trying to forge a better life for themselves.  Honor finds life hard as a single woman unaccustomed to the American way but she is aided by the flamboyant Belle Mills, a milliner, who takes Honor under her wing.  Belle’s brother, Donovan, sets his sights on Honor but his reputation as a dissolute slave hunter makes him an unlikely suitor.

Reminiscent of Gone with the Wind, this is a novel with strong female characters who use their wits to survive difficult times.  Those travelling the Underground Railway are not the only runaways in this well-researched and eloquently written novel.

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The Twelve – Justin Cronin

Posted in Dystopian Fiction on October 1st, 2012 by admin – 6 Comments

The Twelve


Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

New  Books Magazine

The Twelve is the second of Justin Cronin’s epic post-apocalyptic trilogy which began in 2010 with The Passage.   I “devoured” the first book and have been anticipating the sequel with equal amounts of dread and delight.  Fear not, this is not a casualty of Second Novel Syndrome but is instead a glowing example of engaging dystopian fiction at its best.

Yes, it’s a story about vampires but as far removed from Twilight as is humanly/virally possible.  Comparisons with Stephen King’s The Stand are more apt.  As in The Passage, there are several converging storylines with different starting points.  At first this can be quite disconcerting as time frames zoom from the beginning of the apocalypse to events mentioned in The Passage to the present day where mankind seems on the verge of eventually destroying the bio-engineered vampires.  If you hang in there, for the first 100 pages or so, you will be rewarded bountifully with an almost 3D cinematic experience with motifs of good versus evil, love, loss and sacrifice. 

This is a book which deserves large chunks of your reading time, an addictive narrative which will take up most of your waking hours.  It is an excellent springboard for reading group discussion especially in an era where medical and scientific advances are juxtaposed with moral and ethical issues.  For those with weak wrists, the kindle version is a less cumbersome alternative!

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Spirit of Lost Angels – Liza Perrat

Posted in Historical Fiction on September 28th, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

Spirit of Lost Angels

  • Paperback: 378 pages
  • At the time of writing – only £2.79 on Kindle
  • My Rating – 4 stars
  • Source – the author herself
  • I suppose I could be described as a Francophile, given that I used to teach French to A Level (age 18) and I have a penchant for novels set in France e.g. Joanne Harris, Kate Mosse, Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud, Tracy Chevalier’s The Virgin Blue and more recently, Tatiana de Rosnay.  Therefore I was immediately drawn to Spirit of Lost Angels, set in late 18th century Revolutionary France.

    This is a very impressive debut novel with characters which spring to life from the opening pages.  Our narrator is a young peasant girl, Victoire, who experiences at first hand the tumult caused by the rumblings of revolutionary France.  Victoire is a surviver, having to “reinvent” herself on more than one occasion to keep her head above water.  We witness her rural upbringing, not quite the bucolic idyll and then a new life in bustling Paris, in the midst of turbulent social change.

    Real life historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Mary Wollstonecraft and Jeanne de Valois feature in this vividly described narrative adding authenticity to this epic tale.  The author wears her research lightly in this extremely readable, emotionally satisfying tale of a feisty young girl surviving the worst of times.  I am pleased to report that this is the first of a series of novels and I am really looking forward to hearing more about Victoire’s descendants.  Highly recommended for all lovers of historical fiction who enjoy a meaty tale!

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    The Mill for Grinding Old People Young – Glenn Patterson

    Posted in Historical Fiction on September 20th, 2012 by admin – 8 Comments


  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber (15 Mar 2012)
  • Source - Library
  • My Rating – 5 stars
  • I wouldn’t have even heard about this novel if it hadn’t been our latest choice for our library reading group, so many thanks to Liz, our lovely librarian, for seeking out this gem of a story.  I had heard of  Glenn Patterson, a local author, who has written many novels set during and considering the impact of the Troubles in Northern Ireland but for some strange reason I hadn’t read any of these, preferring perhaps not to read about our painful past and instead reading about conflict in other distant countries.  Time to rectify that now!

    The Mill for Grinding Old People Young is narrated by Belfast man, Gilbert Rice, in 1897.  At the age of 85, his health is failing yet he has vivid memories of his youth in a rapidly changing city.  In the 1830s the city’s population was expanding rapidly in response to industrialisation and the influx of a vast new workforce.  Gilbert has had a relatively sheltered childhood, brought up by a strict but kindly grandfather, but he enters a new exciting world when he starts work at the Ballast Office at the Port of Belfast.  There is the constant fear of a cholera epidemic which leads to a wariness of foreigners.  There is a wide chasm between the landed gentry and the ordinary working folk although both like to indulge in a bit of gambling at cock-fights!  Gilbert makes his way through an ever changing world, making mistakes en route, growing up in a city which is also finding its feet.

    Written in an easy, accessible style, this intriguing novel opens a window on the past of a city which has constantly had to reinvent itself.   From the opening pages, you have a sense of Belfast as a living, breathing organism and there’s a lot of affection and humour from Gilbert as he takes you on a tour of a city in its heyday.  The author wears the weight of his historical research lightly and you absorb the atmosphere, soaking up the ambiance whether it be supping a pint or having a quick nap in the storeroom of the Ballast Office. 

    Anyway, how could you resist such an intriguing title or such a stunning cover??  This is the first time I have been accosted by a doctor in a waiting room….to ask what I was reading and I was delighted to recommend it wholeheartedly.

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    My Dear I Wanted To Tell You – Louisa Young

    Posted in Historical Fiction on August 22nd, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

    My Dear I Wanted to Tell You




    My Rating - 3 stars

    There seems to have been a spate of WWI books recently of which I have consumed my fair share so I waited a while after publication before investigating this story out of fear of over-exposure.   I have also waited a while after reading before reviewing as I wanted to see if my reading experience would improve with age…..however, it remained a 3 star read for me, not bad but not earth-shatteringly good either, decidedly middle of the road.

    There’s a lot going on in this novel – two men and three women, from varied social backgrounds experiencing different aspects of the war both at home and at the front.  Add to that a forbidden love affair, the gradual crumbling of social barriers, the horrors of life in the trenches, the physical and mental scars of war and you have a heady mix.  It’s clearly an extremely well-researched novel with lots of interesting information about the early days of reconstructive surgery.

    There’s no doubt that Louisa Young is a fine writer but I had the impression the kitchen sink effect of so many themes had a clogging effect on the story and I found it hard going at times.  Whilst Riley, Peter, Nadine, Julia and Rose are portrayed vividly, I only felt engaged by Rose who was kept in the background for most of the novel.  The rest seemed to belong to a clique renowned as much for their vapidity as their beauty.

    Somehow this novel and I just didn’t click but I’d still like to read more of the author’s work, perhaps with different subject matter.

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    The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

    Posted in Historical Fiction, Proofs on August 20th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

    The Colour of Milk


    Fig Tree

    Amazon Vine

    My Rating – 5 Stars

    Looks can be deceiving – The Colour of Milk looks like a dainty little thing, measuring just 15cm x 10cm and at 176 pages, more novella than novel but behind that delicate exterior lurks a powerful story with a strong female protagonist.

    It is 1851 and this  is the story of 15 year old Mary, the youngest of four daughters in a farming family where a son would have been more highly prized.  Mary tells it as it is and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.  She tells her story over four seasons and over the course of the year 1851 there are big changes in her life.  Viewed as the runt of the litter by her brutal father, he sees some way to make use of her by hiring her out to the local vicar and his wife.   Perhaps this will be a form of escape for Mary but she misses her home, especially her grandfather.  There is some compensation as she eventually achieves her ambition, to be able to read and write but at what cost?

    I warmed to Mary from her opening words -

    this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand.

    She’ll tell her story as she sees fit, in her own time and in her own barely literate style – don’t expect any airs and graces with this girl!  Her voice is so natural, so true and you can’t help but be engrossed in her tale.  She doesn’t set out to charm or flatter the reader but the bare, direct style of her narration makes her irresistible.  Her love for her grandfather shines through despite the lack of terms of endearment.

    Mary, with her hair “the colour of milk”, is intent on lingering in my imagination – a sure sign of a good read.

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    The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket – John Boyne

    Posted in Children's Books on August 10th, 2012 by admin – 6 Comments

    The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket


    Doubleday Children’s Books

    Source – Amzon Vine

    My Rating – 5 stars (for children and anyone who needs reminding of what it feels to be a child)

    Barnaby Brocket is no ordinary boy as he defies the laws of gravity, floating off  if he isn’t physically restrained.   His parents cannot accept his differences and go to extreme lengths to keep him grounded, physically and mentally.  One day, Barnaby floats away and you hope he will experience better examples of humanity once freed from the suffocating normality of his earth-bound family.

    Before I got the opportunity to “meet” Barnaby he was kidnapped by my two children, aged 8 and 12, and both were engaged by this extraordinary boy and equally enraged by the pompous, creativity-quashing attitudes of  his parents.  “He should have rung Childline” was the general viewpoint!  Having received such a positive reaction from the target audience I was delighted to find my own way into Barnaby’s world.   It’s whimsical, charming with a fantastical story which flows so smoothly you can’t help but be carried along.  There are touches of Dahl and Walliams with quirky characters and dark humour – this feels very much like a modern children’s classic.  Oliver Jeffers’ beautiful cover is the perfect complement to Boyne’s excellent storytelling – highly recommended for children age 8+.

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    600 Hours of Edward – Craig Lancaster

    Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction on August 8th, 2012 by admin – 9 Comments
    600 Hours of Edward
    Paperback, 334 pages
    Expected publication: August 14th 2012 by Amazon Encore
    Source – Amazon Vine
    My Rating – 5 stars
    I was initially attracted to this novel as Edward, the narrator, has Aspergers (like my son). Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment but I like to know how ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) is presented in fiction – sometimes authors hit the nail on the head e.g. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which was equally enjoyed by my son and I, whilst others really miss the mark and one can’t help suspecting they’re using it in an effort to make their novel quirky, to give it a twist. Edward passed our stringent authenticity test and I think he will endear himself to many, many readers.

    Aspergers does not define Edward but it’s part of who he is and it explains his love of facts and avoidance of ambiguity. Yes, he can be blunt, lacking diplomacy but it’s his OCD which dominates his life. He lives apart from his family and communicates with his father through a solicitor – he’d love to have a better relationship with his father but it takes two to tango. His days are structured around various “data collection” – recording his waking time, the daily weather statistics, compelled to watch old videos of the 50s/60s US police drama, Dragnet, at 10.00pm each evening without fail. He has a vast collection of letters of complaint, letters which he composes to various individuals who have slighted/offended him in some way but which remain unsent, on the advice of his therapist!

    However, life is about to change for Edward who, at 39, has led a reclusive existence with very little human contact. His first experience of internet dating is an education. A new neighbour brings new opportunities for interaction. It’s not an easy transition but Edward starts to emerge from his cocoon and stamp his personality on the world.

    600 Hours of Edward is an excellent debut novel with a narrator whose personality will immediately engage the reader. It made me laugh out loud at times and even sniffle a little but ultimately it left me feeling positive and optimistic.  I felt I got to know Edward and his hometown, Billings, Montana which exists in real life, including Edward’s local convenience store, Albertsons and his actual street!  If you enjoyed Heft by Liz Moore I think you will be equally enthralled by 600 Hours of Edward.

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    The Sacrificial Man – Ruth Dugdall

    Posted in Thriller on August 3rd, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments



    Legend Press Ltd

    My Rating – 4 stars

    This is Ruth Dugdall’s second psychological thriller featuring Probation Officer, Cate Austin, the first being The Woman Before Me.  Typically, I have got it wrong again and read this one first but I am now looking forward to reading the first book in the series!

    Cate Austin’s latest case is a tricky one as she has to recommend a sentence for Alice Mariani, charged with assisted suicide.  Before you sigh, “Oh no, not another euthanasia tale”, this story has very little to do with ethics but more of a reflection on the lengths some folk will go to out of love for another human being, even if that love is born out of a warped sense of loyalty.  Alice is an intriguing character, not the most endearing and often quite chilling in her steely self possession.  As the novel progresses we learn more about Alice’s background, the traumatic events which have made her what she is today and we start to see a chink in her emotional armour.

    This thriller will grip you, not letting go until the final page and then you’ll feel quite dazed by the whole experience.  Not for the squeamish, with a dash of cannibalism, this is a dark, bleak, delightfully disturbing read.  It all feels very authentic, testament to Ruth’s previous career as a Probation Officer.   Looking forward to catching up with The Woman Before Me and reading more from this talented author in the future.

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