Thursday 29 September 2011

Review - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

I didn't know much about this trilogy of young adult books until The Hunger Games was recommended by my book group, and to be honest the idea of reading about young people fighting to the death on live television was enough to put me off reading it at all - but I'm so glad I took advantage of Amazon's recent Kindle sale and purchased the first of the Trilogy....

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
jaffa's rating 5paws

Set sometime in the future, in the dystopian society of Panem, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her sister's place when she is selected to represent her district in the annual Hunger Games. Katniss is pitted against other youngsters who must use their wit and cunning in order to survive.

The premise of the book should be off putting - young people selected to fight to the death on live television isn't something I would normally choose to read, however, this book captures your imagination from the opening page and carries you along in a tidal stream of events.

Whilst reading the book I was reminded forcibly of Reality TV shows like X-factor and American Idol, and whilst we don't encourage young people to fight to the death on live television, we do as a society  "enjoy" and actively encourage the cut-throat world of competitive combat live on our TV screens.

Maybe this book should act as a salutary warning.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Review ~ Crippen by John Boyne

I was delighted to be given this book as my fourth read in the Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge 2011.

My rating 4 out of 5 stars
jaffa's rating 4 paws

The story opens in July 1910 with passengers boarding the SS Montrose in Antwerp bound for Canada. Amongst the passengers are a Mr John Robinson and his seventeen year old son Edmund, who together with a disparate group of fellow travellers are to be confined on board ship for the duration of the journey. This fictional account of the true story of the notorious Doctor Crippen gets off to a rather slow start, but then develops into a suspenseful and credible murder /mystery story. The depiction of the hypocrisy of the upper classes in the early part of the twentieth century is cleverly written, and the added snippets of Crippin’s early life serves to emphasise the complexity of his character, and highlights his emotional instability. There are several other background characters that add weight to the story, and allow a fascinating glimpse into the convolutions of a society where social class was paramount.

Overall, I thought Crippen was a really good read; it is very cleverly constructed as the slow pace accentuates the gradual exposure of Doctor Crippen, and eventually reveals the sordid details of this crime which gripped the imagination of the nation.

For me, the added enjoyment comes from John Boyne’s exceptionally good writing; he has a distinct talent for storytelling, and his ability to make the story come alive is typical of his style and flair. 

This is definitely a book I would recommend to my friends.

Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge 2011

This is my fourth and final book in this years' reading group challenge. I have thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience, and whilst one book was rather disappointing, it in no way detracts from the quality of books published by Transworld .

I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to review the work of some excellent contemporary novelists, and look forward to future challenges.

Friday 23 September 2011

Seasons of mist....

One of my favourite times of year is now with us - the smell of Autumn is in the air, and there is a real sense of looking back over summer, and forward into winter. There's something quite comforting about the change of the seasons ....and the sentiment is eloquently express by this passage from John Keats poem -

ODE to AUTUMN (1820) 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more
And still more, later, flowers for the bees
Until they think the warm days will never cease
For Summer has o'er brimmed their clammy cells

A few of my favourite things about Autumn....

  • Long low sunshine that seems kinder, and less harsh on the eye
  • That Autumnal nip to the air that makes you think of warm sweaters, and cosy blankets
  • Looking for conkers, and kicking up Autumn leaves
  • Hearing migratory birds pass overhead
  • Hot bowls of soup with good French bread
  • A good thick blockbuster of a book
  • Downton Abbey on the television

Autumnal Equinox 23rd September 2011

Also known as the September equinox, the event signifies the first day of autumn in the UK. The autumn equinox is also used to determine the date of the traditional harvest festival which is held on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the autumn equinox.

Monday 19 September 2011

Comfort Reading...

I've had a period of a few days where I have really struggled with my reading - and have started and put down my latest Transworld review book Crippen by John Boyne a couple of times - so in order to get myself back into review mode I have decided to read one of my favourite authors - Elizabeth Chadwick.

I first discovered her books in the 1990's when she started to publish medieval historical adventures - her characterisation is excellent, and her sense of history really makes the story come alive.

I have three books of hers as yet unread, which I sort of squirrel away  for those moments when only a good book by a favourite author will fit the bill...

I'm reading The Leopard Unleashed - which is the third book in the Ravenstow Trilogy and which was first published in 1992. It was re-edited and re-released in 2010, and whilst the trilogy can be read as stand alone novels, the books really are more compelling if read in sequence.

The Leopard Unleashed

I reviewed Elizabeth Chadwick's latest book Lady of the English for newbooks magazine in April 2011.

Lady of the EnglishLady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

jaffa's rating 5paws

Lady of the English is set in the 1100's, and follows the lives of two very different women, Matilda and Adeliza.

Matilda, the only daughter of Henry I, was used as a political pawn for all of her life. As a young child she was married to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, until his death in 1125 resulted in her father using her again to make a political marriage, this time with the Count of Anjou. Following the untimely death of her brother William, Matilda was regarded by some of the English barons as the rightful heir to the English crown. However, after the death of her father, the succession was insecure, and Matilda’s life became one long battle to regain, and maintain what was rightfully hers from Stephen, the usurper King. Adeliza of Louvain was the second queen of Henry I, and Matilda's stepmother. Little is known of her historically other than she did not produce the male heir Henry I needed for a safe succession.

This is a meticulously researched historical novel with great insight into both female lead characters. Elizabeth Chadwick has cleverly juxtaposed the lives of these two fascinating women, and brought the medieval world to life in such a believable way, that you feel the tension and experience the struggle, not just for supremacy, but for survival. To be a woman in a medieval world was to be subjected to the whim of men – and only the strongest women made a difference.

Elizabeth Chadwick is a master of medieval storytelling, her sense of history is superb, her characters leap off the page, and enter your life in such a way that the story lives on in your imagination long after the last page.

.If you haven't tried her books before, and love good historical fiction then do give yourself a treat and pick up a copy of one of her books - there's loads to choose from, and each one will take you back in time much so the housework simply won't get done and the chocolate hob nobs will simply disappear....

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Review - The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell

I've wanted to read this book since I saw it in a review in early August 2011.

The Restoration is such a wonderful time to write about - I'm surprised that so many authors seem to bypass it - and either go back to the Tudor period, or forward to Regency England. I was completed hooked on this time in English history when I read the novels of Jean Plaidy as a teenager - the love story of Nell Gwynne and King Charles II can be found in the Charles 11 Trilogy . Their content is a bit dated now, and yet,  the books capture the historical period very well.

Avon 2011

Nell Gwynne is a ragged ten year old when she watches King Charles II make his triumphant return to London in the Spring of 1660. London is rejoicing following the end of Cromwell's rule, and the city is soon to become the debauched centre of Europe. Into this world of prostitution and corruption young Nelly makes her way, first as an orange seller in the flourishing theatres, and then as one of the first female actresses.

Nell is a lively and very popular attraction, and as such is the focus of incessant male attention, but it is her relationship with King Charles that will alter the course of her life forever.

The book is a beautifully written and lively romp through Restoration England. Gillian Bagwell has captured the very essence of the period with a charm and wit that keeps you turning the pages.

The Darling Strumpet is saucy, and sexually explicit throughout, but overall the humour and the sheer joie de vivre shines through, and emphasises the utter glory of being alive and young in one of the most glittering of Royal courts.

It  comes with a recommendation by one of my favourite authors 
" Richly Engaging" Diana Gabaldon 

I loved it.


I'm delighted to discover that Gillian will have a new book The September Queen  out in the US in November 2011, and then published later in the UK in 2012.......and there are already plans for a third book about Bess of Hardwick.

Don't you just love it when you find a new favourite author !!!!

Sunday 11 September 2011

Saturday 10 September 2011

Childhood friends...

Pure indulgence -

I' ve been recently reminded of one of my favourite childhood books, which led me to think about other books that influenced my younger years..

So here they are in no particular order, but all made a lasting impression, and no doubt fostered my love of reading...

The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett (1937)

Written in 1937 - it won the Carnegie medal for the best children's book - features the Ruggles family who are poor, and very ordinary, and yet are filled with zest for life...and had amazing adventures.

The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig (1968)

The Rudomin family is arrested by the Russians and exiled to Siberia. This tells the story of survival against all odds.

Smith by Leon Garfield (1968)

Smith is a pickpocket ragamuffin cruising the streets of London, who gets tangled up in a murder investigation when he becomes the chief suspect.

The Owl Service by Alan Garner(1967)

The Owl Service is a stack of grimy old plates stuck in the attic. Uncovering the mystery of The Owl Service, Alison, Roger and Gwyn get caught up in long buried secrets.
Quite a spooky little story.

Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner(1898)

A boy's own tale of smuggling, contraband and illicit danger set in 1757 - it was the inspiration for many games of "smuggling" when I was a child and on holiday amongst the cliffs and caves of North Wales.

What's really reassuring is that all these books are still very readable today.....and have stood the test of time.

Friday 9 September 2011

Review - The Obscure Logic of the Heart by Priya Basil

I was delighted to be given the opportunity of reading this book for the Transworld Book Group Reading challenge.

‘I’m part of the Transworld Book Group!’

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
jaffa's rating 2paws - he gave up long before I did and fell asleep !

Whilst studying in London, Anil and Lina meet and fall in love. Yet they come from very different backgrounds; Anil is a non-practising Sikh from a wealth Kenyan family, and Lina is a devout Muslim from a middle class family in Birmingham. Lina’s parents want her to marry a Muslim man of their choosing and as a result Anil and Lina are destined to keep their love secret, as predictably fate conspires against them. Theoretically good, the novel encompasses a whole range of conflict, not just the frustrations encountered by the star crossed lovers, but also the effect that post 9/11 had on the world’s larger arena.

The book’s stunning cover and the promise of a 21st century Romeo and Juliet sold the story to me. I so wanted to love this book, but struggled with it from the beginning, and whilst acknowledging the writer’s talent I have to say that I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I expected. I found the narrative cumbersome and quite confusing in places, and by the end of the story didn’t engage with either Anil or Lina enough to care what happened to them.

I hate being disappointed by a book, and it just proves you should never judge a book by its cover.

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Review - 13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro

I was delighted to be given a copy of this book to review for newbooksmag. I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but this one really did appeal to me , and I wasn't disappointed once I opened the book ...

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

jaffa's rating 4paws - he'd love to learn French, and has been practising purring in a French accent !

A small box filled with the keepsakes of a past life is the premise for this beautifully narrated book which is based on the author’s own interpretation of a discovered box of treasured mementos. This quirky story has been weaved around a lost world of love letters, photographs and keepsakes, and collectively offers a whole new story perspective.

When American academic Trevor Stratton is given the box of relics by his colleague, Josianne Noireau, we are introduced to the life of Louise Brunet, a young Frenchwoman who lost her first love during WW1, and who now lives a vicarious life in post war Paris. The story is dotted throughout with illustrations, and small snippets of intimate information, which together form a story filled with romanticism, and visual appeal.

I loved the way the book was presented, from the French chapter headings, to the availability of QR codes for my Smartphone, all help to make this a deliciously different story, which at times feels like you are reading a very personal memoir.

My feeling is that this book will appeal to readers who enjoy interactive narratives, and who are searching for something “ just a little bit different".

Monday 5 September 2011

Review - A Means of Escape by Joanna Price

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
jaffa's rating 4paws - he really wants to go to Glastonbury !

I was delighted to be given an early reading copy of A Means of Escape to review for bookdagger real readers.

On a cold November morning a woman’s body is discovered on Glastonbury Tor. Detective Inspector Rob Brown and his colleague Detective Sergeant Kate Linton head the murder investigation. When a second woman is abducted in Glastonbury, there are real fears that the killer may have struck again, the only problem is that the mystical community around Glastonbury creates more questions than answers.

This is an accomplished debut novel, with good character analysis, and a well driven and gutsy plot. There is enough information about the investigative process without it being too cumbersome, and some genuinely funny moments which help to lighten the mood. I especially warmed to both lead characters – the details of Linton and Brown’s separate personal lives adds a nice dimension to what could develop into a strong partnership. The added frisson of a “will they, won’t they” atmosphere to their relationship, makes the book all the more enjoyable to read.

It is refreshing to have another British female crime writer on the scene, and I am pleased to discover that this is the first book in a proposed series featuring Kate Linton. I am sure that the series will gain in strength and popularity, and I look forward to spending more time in the company of this gutsy and intelligent detective sergeant.

Friday 2 September 2011

Review - Untying the Knot by Linda Gillard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
jaffa's rating 5paws - he's not seen me so quiet for a long time !!

Take a damaged war hero with a vulnerable ex-wife, add to an impossibly romantic Scottish tower, mix together and out comes this beautiful and tender love story, written by an author who has a real flair for storytelling, and who quite simply makes a story come alive.

There’s always an air of trepidation when a favourite author brings out a new book, and a fear that it won’t live up to expectations. Not the case with Untying the Knot, in fact I think that Linda has surpassed herself with this one. Beautifully written from the opening page, the emotional depth of the characters, and the amount of love and care that has gone into the narrative, make it a joy to read.

If you haven’t read any of Linda’s books before – give yourself a treat and start with this one.

Thursday 1 September 2011

A few of the rest.....

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

When Agatha Raisin sells her London based PR business and moves to the sleepy English village of Carsely, she expects to have a quiet and uneventful life. However, when she enters a local baking competition with an illegal quiche , she unleashes a catalogue of events which will have disastrous consequences for some of the villagers.
I rather enjoyed this whimsical murder/ mystery - there's some lovely eccentricities that just leap off the page. Unexpectedly, I find myself hooked enough to want to read more, and have already ordered the next two books in the series.

In a True Light by John Harvey

When Sloane arrives at his London home on his release from prison, he finds a letter from an ex lover asking him to visit her because she is ill, and needs to tell him something. This information takes Sloane to America in search of something which will involve him in danger and heartbreak.

I always enjoy John Harvey's stand alone novels just as much as his detective series . This one has more emotional depth, and is rather more gritty. The action mostly takes place in the US which he describes very well.


Reading a Nora Roberts book is like settling down in your favourite armchair with a packet of chocolate biscuits !
Great writing, wonderfully addictive characters, and a story to become absorbed in ...loved it.

The Girl who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

Sarah Addison Allen writes "feel good" books like no other author.
Reading The Girl Who Chased the Moon is like being wrapped in your favourite blanket, it's marshmallow soft, sugary sweet and easy to digest in one sitting.
Beautifully written from beginning to end - I really enjoyed it.

I think that I've now reviewed all the books I read in August -

jaffa and I are looking forward to an equally good reading list in September.....