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Charliecat (Oxfordshire, UK)

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Black Heart Blue
Black Heart Blue
by Louisa Reid
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.68

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emotionally powerfully and beautifully written novel., 20 May 2012
This review is from: Black Heart Blue (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid is a dark, emotional and lyrical novel. I was gripped from beginning to end and read it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down.

It tells the story of 16 year old twins Rebecca and Hephzi (Hephzibah). Hephzi is beautiful and desperate to be a normal teenager and Rebecca , disfigured by Treacher Collins syndrome, lives in her shadow. We know from the beginning (so I won't be spoiling anything) that Hephzi is dead and the story is told in alternating chapters by Hephzi before her death and by Rebecca after her sister's death although we don't discover how her sister died until much later.

The twin's home life with a terrifyingly violent, religiously extreme father and a cowardly and cold mother is powerfully told and never sensationalized as it so easily could be. The characters are all superbly drawn and believable and the plot is black and bleak but is worked out in a realistic and optimistic way.

I found myself alternating between anger that none of the Vicar's neighbours see him for what he really is or are aware of Hephzi and Rebecca's true life and crying at the pain and terror they suffer.

Black Heart Blue is an emotionally hard-hitting book which tackles subjects that are so often ignored or glossed over and by the end of it I was left stunned by the story and by the sensitivity of the writing. Do you ever really know what goes on behind closed doors?

Stay Close
Stay Close
by Harlan Coben
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.81

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The first and last Coben novel I'll be reading., 8 May 2012
This review is from: Stay Close (Hardcover)
I've never read a Harlan Coben novel before so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect although I had a fairly good idea that he writes crime/thriller type novels. Stay Close is something like Harlan Coben's 23rd novel so he certainly churns them out but I get the feeling that this is not one of his best.

It is about 3 people, Megan Pierce who is a suburban housewife with a racy past which is going to catch up with her, Ray Levine, a failed photographer who is now at the bottom of the heap and Detective Broome who cannot let the case of a missing father and husband go.

Stay Close is a very plot-based type of thriller which you might pick up at the airport to pass the time. The characters are fairly terrible and this was my main issue with it. I like character driven novels and Coben's characters are flimsy, without any depth to them. It is touted as a psychological thriller but I failed to see how it could be when the characters have no psychological depth. I also like some descriptions in my novels other than what people are wearing but Stay Close is mostly dialogue and pretty poor dialogue at that.

The background story of Megan's past life as an exotic dancer/stripper isn't really explored and in typical male fashion Harlan Coben's character, Megan, loved her past life so there was no real understanding of the real plight of girls who live that life although some effort was made with the storyline involving abusive men it was never really explored in much depth although maybe that is too much to expect from this type of novel.

The plot is fine, it won't blow you away but it will keep you guessing. Overall it's a fair crime novel but I'd probably pass on any more Harlan Coben novels in the future.

by Elizabeth Jenkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.88

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of grim Victorian crime., 1 May 2012
This review is from: Harriet (Paperback)
The Penge Murder Mystery was a notorious crime which came to light in 1877. Harriet Staunton - a woman with learning difficulties who was then deemed `simple-minded' or `a natural' -died of starvation and neglect along with her baby. Her husband Louis Staunton (Lewis Oman in the novel), his brother Patrick, his wife Elizabeth and her sister Alice (who was also Louis' mistress) were tried and convicted of her murder.

It was and still is a horrifying case which later merited a volume in the Notable British Trials Series which is where the author Elizabeth Jenkins came across the case and became `obsessed' with the Stauntons and the death of poor Harriet.

Harriet, written in 1934, is one of the very first novels to take a real life incident and fictionalise it in a way which is now very much in vogue. Elizabeth Jenkins had such a deft hand with characterisation that no-one in the novel comes across as overtly villainous as they might do in the hands of a lesser author. The reader is shown how greed, vanity and possessive love can lead these four people to commit such unimaginable crimes.

I felt a terrible sense of pity for Mrs Olgilvy (Harriet's mother Mrs Butterfield) and the despair which overtakes her when she realises she cannot prevent her daughter from marrying the fortune hunting Lewis Oman (Louis Staunton) and from then on there is an impending sense of tragedy because the reader knows how it will end.

Harriet is sensitively drawn and I felt her confusion when all the things she has known - care, comfort and love- from her mother are taken away from her and she is pushed more and more callously out of the picture so that the four can live the blissfully happy life they have always wanted if only they had had the money before. The coldness and disgust which Lewis, Alice, Elizabeth and Patrick begin to treat Harriet is terrifying and filled me with mounting shock and pity.

Harriet is a brilliantly accomplished and chilling read and I was gripped from start to finish and I read it in one sitting.

Island of Bones (Crowther & Westerman 3)
Island of Bones (Crowther & Westerman 3)
by Imogen Robertson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.86

3.0 out of 5 stars Good holiday read., 30 April 2012
Island of Bones is the third novel in Imogen Robertson's series which began with Instruments of Darkness. Gabriel Crowther, the reclusive anatomist, and Mrs Harriet Westerman, now a widow, are thrown in to danger again when a body is discovered in the tomb of the Earl of Greta - a body that shouldn't be there.

I read Instruments of Darkness a while ago when it first came out and I quite enjoyed it. Strangely enough I didn't enjoy this one quite as much although it was a pleasing enough read.

The story is set in Cumbria in 1783 at Crowther's family lands which he sold a long time ago. We learn that Crowther's brother Adair was hanged for murdering their father and this explains why Crowther is such a recluse it also forms the backdrop of the present mystery. The landscape of Cumbria is richly described and the folklore and tales of the time and the area are also richly imagined and I enjoyed this immensely. The story itself is a little overstretched but the 18th century details and the well-drawn characters make up for this.

Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther are more developed than the earlier novel and therefore more interesting characters and as much more of Crowther's family history is revealed in this novel he becomes a more sympathetic figure.

I'm not sure why I didn't enjoy this one as much as the first novel. It was a very similar story, maybe too similar. I like the characters of Harriet and Crowther but perhaps not enough to read a whole series about them. I would recommend it was a well-written, good historical holiday read.

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking
Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking
by Susan Cain
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening.....but a bit too American., 29 April 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Having always been told at school that I was too quiet and I should `come out of my shell' or `speak up more' I was intrigued by this book. At last someone recognises that being an introvert is not some sort of syndrome or something to be `got over'. Seeing as introverts make up half of the world's population and Cain acknowledges that some of the world's most creative minds are introverted and a huge proportion of inventions and creations are made by introverts it's about time the world woke up to the power of introverts and encourages introverts to flourish as well as the extroverts.

This is a very powerful premise but Susan Cain's book is a bit hit-and -miss and by the end of it I had mixed feelings. As other reviewers have mentioned Cain's book is US-centric , which means that all of the research, examples and solutions are American which can be frustrating and annoying for the rest of us. I would have liked research from other countries to fill the science out a bit more and gain a wider perspective.

Cain's book is part auto-biography, part science and part self-help which, for me, doesn't always come off. As it is parts of the book are extremely interesting and other parts are liable to be skipped. The parts about the extrovert ideal and the way the Western world encourages this ideal in schools and in the workplace and the damage which this can do were really interesting and enlightening but I was put-off by the self-help sections and some of the examples which were a little superfluous and corporate America to be relevant.

Overall it's an excellent beginning for something which the Western world in particular needs to recognise and I hope it's the start of more books on the subject and some serious debate about the Western world's obsession with the extrovert. Being an introvert is not a character flaw. I only wish I'd known this at school.

All Fall Down
All Fall Down
by Sally Nicholls
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good history lesson for 12 upwards., 29 April 2012
This review is from: All Fall Down (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Set in the middle of the fourteenth century, when the Black Death was sweeping through Britain. All Fall Down by Sally Nicholls tells the story of Isabel, her family and friends, and the village she lives in as the pestilence draws ever nearer.

Sally Nicholls has researched her subject very well and the wealth of period detail including contemporary language is excellent for a YA novel. The spirit of the medieval times is captured quite well and things are explained in fairly plain language so a young audience can get a history lesson at the same time as reading a good story. However, at times, I felt like I'd read it all before. The characters are somewhat lacking in interest and the story is perfectly fine but formulaic and most of the time not particularly gripping even though this time period is one of the most interesting in history I didn't always feel it and it sometimes felt more like an obvious textbook re-telling of well known events.

The main protagonist, Isabel, is a rather modern young lady who is unbelievably composed in the face of great trauma and worryingly self-contained, even when the pestilence strikes down her father and stepmother in rather grim fashion.
Maybe I'm being picky because this is a children's novel after all but I felt that the characters lacked depth and much of the horror was distanced from the reader by either happening `off-stage' or to people the reader didn't really know.
I was moved by the character of the young priest who selflessly tends to the sick and dying when the previous parish priest flees. He was a highlight for me and a brilliant touch.

Having said all that I would recommend this novel - not as a crossover novel because I think it's too simple for adults - but for 12 upwards All Fall Down does combine an interesting and important time period and a good story.
It's a shame Nicholls called it All Fall Down thereby perpetuating the myth that Ring o' Ring o' Roses relates to the Black Death but that is my last niggle!

The Whores' Asylum
The Whores' Asylum
by Katy Darby
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Give it a miss., 26 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Whore's Asylum is set in late nineteenth century Oxford and follows the fortunes of a group of people all caught up together in a drama of love, friendship and betrayal. It is narrated by Edward Fraser who is studying theology at Oxford University. The narrative is split into 5 separate parts each relating to a different character but still narrated by Fraser who is, I have to say, a slightly annoying and rather unlikable man. In fact I didn't really like any of the characters very much and it was a struggle to really care what happened to any of them.

Edward Fraser's best friend and roommate, Stephen Chapman, is training to be a doctor at the university. When Chapman becomes involved in a shelter for fallen women run by the enigmatic Diana Pelham Fraser can only feel a sense of dread and unease. However even he cannot predict the dark and dangerous turn events will take.

The story really revolves around four men and one woman - called variously Anna Sadler or Diana Pelham. However none of the characters are very well drawn or distinct and I found it all got a bit confusing as they each relate their history with Anna/Diana. A villain - Lord Kester- is also involved but I found him to be nothing more than a pantomime villain with no particular character of his own. Overall it's a little bit confusing and as it draws to its climax it gets a little bit silly as well.

It would have been a much better novel if the author had taken more time with the character development and maybe not made such a complicated plot. On the back it purports to be like a Sherlock Holmes story or a Sarah Waters novel but it is nothing like either of these nor is it like the Victorian sensation novels which I enjoy reading. Give it a miss.

The Uninvited Guests
The Uninvited Guests
by Sadie Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.09

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Neither one thing or the other but good fun., 26 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Uninvited Guests (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Sadie Jones' third novel is her first foray into the supernatural. It's a strange combination of an Edwardian comedy of manners and a ghost story. It's never quite successful in either capacity but despite that I enjoyed it.

It is Emerald Torrington's twentieth birthday and the people of Sterne manor are getting ready for a party. Meanwhile a few miles away there has been a dreadful accident on the railway line and the bedraggled survivors arrive at Sterne to seek shelter. The household is thrown into turmoil and confusion and when one of the survivors - a mysterious 'gentleman' who rather gets under everyones skin- begins a sinister game during the birthday revels things take a turn to the dark side.

The problem with The Uninvited Guests is that I was never quite sure whether it was a comedy or a ghost story and it never quite manages to be either completely successfully. There are some extremely funny moments especially concerning the youngest daughter of the house - Smudge Torrington- and her so-called Great Undertaking. Also there are some equally chilling supernatural moments during the novel however they never really come together and make a completely satisfying whole.

Nevertheless I quite enjoyed Sadie Jones' third novel and first ghost story. Between the craziness of the birthday party, the Great Undertaking and the rather strange and sinister uninvited guests there was more than enough to keep me entertained.

In Darkness
In Darkness
by Nick Lake
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.65

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In Darkness, 19 Feb 2012
This review is from: In Darkness (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In Darkness is a terrifically original, exciting and hard-hitting young adult novel. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti teenage Shorty is trapped under the rubble of a hospital. In Shorty's young life he has witnessed things which a child should never have to witness. Gang killings and war are a part of his life. The slums of Site Soley are described with distressing detail and the danger, hunger and desperation of Shorty and his family is painfully felt.

Now lying under the wreakage with no food or water in a space barely large enough to move around he tries to make sense of his life so far. He wanders in and out of consciousness and his story becomes entwined with that of the great leader Toussaint L'Ouverture who lead the Haitian revolution in the 1790s and established Haiti as a free state.

Shorty waits for rescue, or death and release. Nick Lake's novel is a brilliant story about love, loss, violence, magic and redemption and is well worth reading.

The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans
by M L Stedman
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Light Between Oceans, 14 Feb 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Light Between Oceans is the story of a childless couple living on a remote island, off the coast of Australia, as lighthouse keepers. Isabel has recently suffered a stillbirth and both Tom and Isabel are isolated by their grief as well as their location. Far from being an idyllic way of life, far from anywhere, the author really conveys a sense of isolation and loneliness for the couple until one fateful day.

A boat washes up on the rocks of the island and inside is a baby, crying, and the body of a man. For Isabel the temptation to keep the baby, who seems to have appeared in their life by fate, is too much to refuse. Tom and Isabel bring up the child as their own and the island becomes that idyll they have always wanted until, on the mainland, they meet a woman whose little girl is missing and Tom and Isabel's life is thrown into turmoil.

The Light Between Oceans is a difficult novel to review. It's an interesting idea and at times it really captures the attention but the majority of the time it failed to grip me. There are sections where the reader learns about Tom's life before he came to the Janus rock but I found these sections a bit dull and they took away the tension which could have been built around the main story.

The reader hears the story from several different perspectives - Tom, Isabel and Hannah, the mother whose child is missing - but I felt that it would have been more effective to hear from just one person and really get inside the head of that person.

Overall it's a bit hit and miss. Parts of it brought tears to my eyes but other parts I could read without interest.

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