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The Little Stranger
The Little Stranger
by Sarah Waters
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A subtly brilliant novel., 20 Dec 2011
This review is from: The Little Stranger (Paperback)
I should start by saying that I love Sarah Waters' work; I think she is one of our most talented novelists writing currently, and my only frustration with her work is that I am desperate for a new book to come out, as I have enjoyed each of her others so much. I think that her books have improved, steadily and surely, with each new one, and 'The Little Stranger' is her best yet. I rushed out to buy it in hardback on the day it was published and disappeared with it, only reappearing when the book was finished, the story having gripped me completely from the start. It is not as overtly dramatic as her earlier works; this is in no way a superficial novel, but that is not to say there is no drama. The writing is quiet, calm, spare, and we gradually get to know the characters over the course of the book, building up our knowledge of them to such a degree that they feel like real people. They are not easily sympathetic, and I think some of the critics here have missed the fact that it is deliberate that we have an 'unreliable narrator' in Doctor Faraday; and that this is key to the story; we receive the story at a remove, so we share his perspective, but with the growing awareness that we are entirely dependent on his point of view, his lack of insight and his metaphorical blindness. The tensions build gradually, fear and apprehension mount through a series of increasingly serious and frightening events; the conclusion is heartbreaking but when it happens it feels inevitable, such is the air of implacable menace that has built up by this time. I was puzzled that some readers did not feel that the ending was clear, as although there is no neat tying-up of all the loose ends, there is a very strong metaphor right at the conclusion of the book, where the doctor looks at the Hall for answers but finds only his own reflection. I feel that a conventional, 'Hercule Poirot' style denoument, where the story is summarised and all the answers spelt out, would actually have weakened the book, as most of the terror is within the reader's head and much more frightening for it.

It is a wonderfully multi-layered book too; on the surface a ghost story, albeit an unusual one, but it is also a portrait of a house and its inhabitants in the post-war 1940s, when society was undergoing an enormous and rapid upheaval, and then again a psychological study of all the characters; they are all surely and confidently depicted as are the interactions between them. I can understand some of the criticisms of the book, whilst not supporting them, as with this one the reader has to work much harder than with Ms Waters' previous novels, but the rewards are great and this is my favourite book of hers. I am greatly looking forward to her next book, but it will be difficult for this author to top this one, as she writes at such a beautifully skilled level already.


Star of the Sea
Star of the Sea
by Joseph O'Connor
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece., 3 Nov 2011
This review is from: Star of the Sea (Paperback)
I loved this book. It is everything one could hope for in a novel; entirely absorbing, intelligent, well written, compassionate but unsparing of the truth, just wonderful in every particular. It is a story of one ship's (the 'Star of the Sea') voyage across the Atlantic, packed with people emigrating to North America, or, more accurately, escaping from Ireland, at the time of the height of the Irish Potato Famine. The book is composed of the histories of some of the passengers and crew, interleaved with newspaper extracts and cartoons of the time, all narrated and compiled by one of the passengers on board, the American journalist G. Grantley Dixon. The histories intertwine and link, and the story builds to its conclusion just as the ship docks in New York. There is very clever plotting involved, the way the author has managed to maintain control of all the different stories and unite them at the book's conclusion is truly excellent, but it is a measure of how good the book is in other ways that one could almost say the plot is incidental. The characters seem real, multi dimensional people, who make mistakes, and, in some cases do some terrible things, but the author still has great empathy for them, and mostly they are just trying to survive. The captain is my favourite, a lovely, gentle, intelligent man, tormented by the suffering of his passengers. The other thing this book does so well is convey the history of that dreadful time; I thought I knew a little of it, but the sheer numbers of people who suffered, died or were just driven off their land overwhelmed me, the remarkable thing is that the author conveys all this without ever lecturing or becoming dull. I can not recommend this book highly enough.


The Betrayal of Trust: Simon Serrailler Book 6 (Simon Serrailler 6)
The Betrayal of Trust: Simon Serrailler Book 6 (Simon Serrailler 6)
by Susan Hill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.86

23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 2 Nov 2011
I should start by saying that I normally thoroughly enjoy Susan Hill's work, in particular 'The Woman in Black', which I think is one of the best modern ghost stories I have read. I have found this series to be well written, but there seems to be a very strong and distinctive moral imperative that has always been present, but is now completely overwhelming the plot. In this, the latest book, one of the main characters, Simon Serrailler, a senior police officer, is investigating two older murders, and is also undergoing the latest painful instalment of his complicated love life, but the main point of this book seems to be to get across an anti-euthanasia message, so omnipresent as to make the 'cold case' plot almost redundant. This sentiment has been expressed earlier in the series, particularly when Cat, a GP and Simon's sister, is approached for help by her own husband who is dying, frightened and in pain, from a brain tumour, and whom she turns down comprehensively, forbidding him to even speak of it again, but here it was a sub-plot and not the main thrust of the plot. In this book, the anti-euthanasia theme is expressed in several different ways, from the woman who is suffering with motor neurone disease, who attends a very sinister clinic abroad, to the mysterious new doctor and his clinic locally, to Cat and Simon's severely handicapped sister who may not have had had a natural death and to even concern Simon's latest love interest married to a much older and sick husband. There is no attempt to acknowledge any alternative points of view, and any difficulties encountered through the anti-euthanasia message simply disappear; the woman who is dying from motor neurone disease eventually just drops out of the plot. This review has been about euthanasia because that is was the book is about, and whilst of course any author has the right to hold whatever view they choose, I fear that by holding the anti-euthanasia argument so strongly Ms Hill is in danger of losing her objectivity and her plot.


Does Anything Eat Wasps?: And 101 Other Questions (New Scientist)
Does Anything Eat Wasps?: And 101 Other Questions (New Scientist)
by "New Scientist"
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All the things you ever wanted to know, 6 Jan 2006
This was bought for my husband, but we've both read it and loved it. Interesting, quirky questions which have been posed by New Scientist readers in previous editions of the magazine, then the answers as provided by the readers, from all backgrounds, or by the editor.
Popularly, science has the image of being a little dry, dull,dusty, but who wouldn't want to know how the bubbles are formed in a certain bubbly chocolate bar, how one could turn oneself into a fossil (after death, obviously)or how to surf down a lava flow. Thoroughly recommended.


Mary, Mary
Mary, Mary
by Julie Parsons
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully well written chiller., 6 Jan 2006
This review is from: Mary, Mary (Paperback)
I loved this book. The plot itself is not farfetched; it tells of the kidnap and murder of a young girl (Mary), her mother's struggle to deal with these dreadful events, the police investigation, the murderer himself and so on.The writing seemed to me to be hugely accomplished, wholly believable and fluid. The storyline is very clever; on the one hand the whole tale appears to be straightforward and open from the beginning, for example, the murderer is known from the first few chapters, as is the victim, the police officers and so on, and a lot of the story is told retrospectively, yet, on the other....! There are twists and unsuspected events just around the corner.
The characters are beautifully decribed, gifted, flawed as they all are, the relationships between them told with clear eyed compassion with an entire absence of sentimentality.
The city of Dublin itself is also quite clearly a character in her own right; so vividly described you feel if you looked out of your window or door you would be looking onto a hot summer's day in Ireland's capital, not your own familiar ones.
It was a book I did not want to end, I felt involved in the characters' lives, and wanted to know what was going to happen after the strory finished. I am only glad that Julie Parsons has written more books, and I thoroughly look forward to them all.


What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal: A Novel
What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal: A Novel
by Zoe Heller
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scandalously good!, 16 July 2005
I really enjoyed this book. The main reason was that it was so much darker than I has anticipated. On one level, it is an excellent, sensitive exploration of the relationship between an older, married school teacher (Sheba) and her (underage) teenage lover(Connolly). Zoe Heller manages to explore our attitudes to this, and how the situation came about, without being judgemental or sentimental. What makes it really exceptional though, is the narration, which is carried out by Sheba's supposed friend Barbara. This gives a whole new dimension to the novel, as you realise that all you read has come through Barbara, and has her interpretation put on them. Where does Barbara fit in and could she be interfering for hre own ends? A wonderful,interesting, sinister, startling book.


Gordon Ramsay Makes It Easy
Gordon Ramsay Makes It Easy
by Gordon Ramsay
Edition: Hardcover

115 of 121 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Food, 11 May 2005
Having always found his cooking wonderful but his style a little abrasive, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. As always the recipes sound delicious and are beautifully complimented by the photography, but this time it seems to be that the whole ethos is different.This book is not about reproducing a five star restaurant meal in your own kitchen, more a sensible, pragmatic approach to modern cooking for family and friends. The chapters are divided into different occasions ('summer barbies','just for kids','posh'etc), and the recipes whilst short and to the point are still distinctly Gordon Ramsay. One for both old and new fans, experienced and not so experienced cooks.


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