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Reviews Written by
Mari Howard (UK)

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Price: £2.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The damage we humans can do ..., 24 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Maelstrom (Kindle Edition)
Maestrom review

As a fan of Francis Guenette’s Crater Lake series, I was interested to read this new book, a collaboration and edition of her late mother’s manuscript Maelstrom. Before purchase, I already knew from Guenette that it would be a very different novel, and of course wondered in what areas.

The story, which has been outlined by other reviewers, takes place not on the Canadian West Coast but in some arid, desert-like part of the USA. I was never sure where, but thought maybe New Mexico? And like Crater Lake books, in a small town setting, but a very different one. The town is dominated by its ruthless, amoral sheriff, though as the plot progresses we learn of the network of complicated relationships and special interests which has intensified his rule. Like the Crater Lake books, all turns on the damaged personalities involved, and how they interact: but in this setting, the damage is lethal, and the results are far more violent. It is indeed a book which surveys how tragically violent and destructive human beings can behave towards one another. The view of human is by no means the “Rousseau” one that we are all basically good: most of these characters could be said to be basically bad, weak, or both, and the author doesn’t hold back what we as a species are capable of, especially in male attitudes and actions towards women.

However, it is also a Francis Guenette book despite the differences. We can still discern her psychological training, experience, and knowledge, her concern for the fate of the mixed-race and Native Americans, her feminism (to give a name to something more subtle than that), and her ability to weave the consequences of damaged personalities for good or for destruction. This, as the story progresses, becomes increasingly obvious, and makes the book a page-turner. Her love and respect for wild and domestic animals is also in there.

She also weaves into it the boy who has what can be called ‘second sight’ (though it may have other names), also found in the Crater Lake books.

Recommended, unless you are a reader who prefers a rip-roaring good crime/adventure story to a study of how it is to be human in an isolated township and an arid setting. This is hard lives, hard survival, in an ‘unforgiving’ landscape. But it ends with some hope.

Marry In Haste: 15 Short Stories of Dating, Love and Marriage
Marry In Haste: 15 Short Stories of Dating, Love and Marriage
Price: £0.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and satisfying entertainment with wisdom, 9 Jan. 2016
Marry in Haste, a collection ‘fast fiction’ on the theme of Dating, Love and Marriage, begins as it means to go on: with a great story sizzling with double entendre and related humour which draws the readers in with a delicious promise of more to come.

Without giving anything away, I’ll pick out a couple favourite stories, the second and third in the second section, as examples of masterful use of tropes and allusions to current culture. We all know similar people and situations and this writer keeps the reader on her side with a feel-good factor of ‘Oh yes, isn’t it just like that, aren’t men/women like this?’

A dry, sly, yet always friendly, well disposed and knowing, wit highlights the trends, tropes, and foibles of the current social scene and makes for a delightful read. Great for train journeys and commuting, this flash fiction comes in short, tasty bites.

Time to Shine
Time to Shine
Price: £6.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So many middle-aged marriages ... with a difference, 21 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Time to Shine (Kindle Edition)
An interesting read: in a carefully written story of confusion, betrayal, and resolution, this story tracks the problems within a marriage stemming from events far back in childhood. The author cleverly reveals how events viewed by the adult through the eyes of his childhood self can cause problems within his present relationship, and it is subtly done here. Neither we nor the character concerned is fully aware of what mysterious reasons there were for the apparent collusion of the young matron of his school with a cruel headmaster ... and now that matron is his wife's close friend.

True to her knowledge of counselling/psychology, the author also brings in the 'fragile male ego' when faced with the problem of his own feelings, and some challenges from his wife, the guy acts predictably.

She also cleverly plaits together the stories of counsellor and client, using these to compliment one another. Once they cross at the same venue, which gives us the readers a chance to view the client through the counsellor's eyes when not presenting herself for a session. Both make progress in their lives through their relationship.

I enjoyed this gentle book, and I liked the mounting tension towards the end, which was well done. The ending, though happier than it might have been, and slightly idealised, is a satisfying one.

The Jazz Files (Poppy Denby Investigates)
The Jazz Files (Poppy Denby Investigates)
Price: £5.03

5.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to the 1920s and a sneaky, paternalistic crime!, 10 Dec. 2015
This is a great page-turner but not only that, it is a novel which to me says that the writer has 'come of age' in her fiction writing for adults. The period is well researched, with none of those slips of time which can happen when writing historical fiction. And the descriptions reveal how much work has gone into putting the characters into the right clothes, attitudes, and culture. And even the theatre connections are authentic, with the character of Lilian Bayliss who founded the Old Vic inWaterloo to bring culture to the 'masses' carefully studied. All that makes for a very satisfying read, especially to anyone who has hueard about the period fromother sources, for example family members.
As for the story, we're taken through Poppy's meteoric rise from office junior to trainee journalist to crime detective in true fictional manner, but it all work really well. We are with her in all her escapades, and we are emotionally involved at every stage.
Looking forward to the next book!

I Capture The Castle (Vintage Classics)
I Capture The Castle (Vintage Classics)
by Dodie Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Fun and Angst as a pre-World War 2 Teenager, 9 Nov. 2015
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Love this book on a second (many years after the first) reading! Dodie is a lovely writer, for adults - I remember I didn't as a kid enjoy the 101 Dalmatians ..but her style and imagination here are delightful.

Recommended to anyone who wants to understand the magical years of the late 1930s (book was published in 1949, written in the Second Wolrd War, and evokes the England Dodie had left behind) - magical for those with money or at least 'distressed gentry'. A YA novel before its time.

Finding Myself in Britain: Our Search for Faith, Home & True Identity
Finding Myself in Britain: Our Search for Faith, Home & True Identity
by Amy Boucher Pye
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Expat Blues, 9 Nov. 2015
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Yes, this book evoked memories of being an ex-pat in North America - Canada in my case - that fish-out-of-water feeling where the things on your shopping list don't come from the stores you thought they should, and the language just strange enough to be misunderstood. It gave me an overall feeling of the awkwardness of being almost but no, not quite, a relation of the majority culture.

And unlike the reviewers before me, I found it disturbing, and felt sorry for the young woman who arrived and was hit so hard by 'Now what? I'm a Vicar's wife in England?' feelings as the newly married young coupl drove towards Cambridge, their first (and temporary) home in England where her husband was still a vicar-in-training. She's lost her familiar surroundings, her job, her family and friends, all were now thousands of miles away ... Amy writes movingly of picking herself up, brushing herself down, and accepting that moving on is what's going on here: life is definitely different.

The format she chose works well: a trip through the seasons, with an account of how each one, with its festivals and weather, affects her and present her with new challenges, with a summary of its spiritual lessons she learned and presents to her readers to end the section. Sometimes I could have done with some clarification, for example, of dates of each vignette: we meet the children as babies, as older children, and do we meet them as teens? They were a bit unclear, in terms of ages, and I'd have liked to've had a clearer picture of this so that family life moved smoothly along through the years, just as the seasons moved around the year. I was also amused about her observations of the British, and didn't recognise myself - however, there are many varieties of British, and it's true we do drink a lot of tea in our family,

The recipes at the very end are, I think, very much an idea from Amy's American heritage, and although they could be accused of being unrelated to the subject (she's finding herself in Britain, these are her American recipes) fit perfectly into the book. Living in a city where many Americans come to study, I've a long acquaintance with how they love to swap recipes, and love to bake. American academics and feminists seem happier in the kitchen than their British counterparts! And I'm totally with them in that: what's over-domestic about offering visitors a great cake or your Momma's special soup or pie? Food's also a good way to recall Home, and that is what Amy underlines in her book: how to make home in a foreign land.

She's a speaker and writer ... she is definitely also identifies as a homemaker, and has indeed taken the time and 'found herself'.

Doctors Dissected
Doctors Dissected
by Jane Haynes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A limited view of medical practitioners, 27 Sept. 2015
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This review is from: Doctors Dissected (Hardcover)
This was a disappointment: I bought the book after reading a review in a newspaper, and it didn't fit into the slot I bought it for. Possibly my mistake. Though I think the choice of doctor interviewed for this assessment of the 'doctor's characters' was far too limited to reveal anything much. The authors and some of the doctors featured GPs working in private practice: whereas the vast majority of GPs work in the NHS. So neither their background nor their present attitudes seemed to me to convey much of use in learning how doctors think and what motivates them.

by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Austen's Emma as aspiring interior designer, 27 Sept. 2015
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This review is from: Emma (Paperback)
Lots of fun here for anyone who's read Austen's Emma. McCall Smith gets the social mores right and translates the story into a contemporary setting with humour and ease. His picture of Emma as the interior designer who, back living at home with Daddy, isn't quite ready to give up her social life for her career. Far more interesting is a spot of matchmaking and playing Lady Bountiful to her governess and to her unfortunate friend who teaches at a kind of pop-up language school.

As usual, McCall Smith reveals his wry and humorous observation of class classics and behaviour, while bringing Jane's characters back to life in the twenty-first century. Great holiday or fireside reading.

The Kindness of Enemies
The Kindness of Enemies
by Leila Aboulela
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Historically interesting story of cultural conflicts, 27 Sept. 2015
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Although a slightly disappointing new novel by a writer I've admired for its three predecessors - particularly her first, The Translator - I disagree with the first review which gave 2 stars and found this book impenetrable and dense. I managed to enjoy it. Despite finding the central character, Natasha, annoying and hard to like, I could empathise with her difficulties, based around a lack of sense of identity. She is a woman who's stumbled through life, using academic success to mask her confused view of who she is and where she belongs. This also serves to demonstrate the dilemma of women whose background is partially a culture which dictates a 'place for' women, which is home, marriage, children, and partially Westernised, highly educated, and intellectual. Natasha has been educated to be, in some religio-cultural terms, more of a man than a woman, this is possibly symbolised by her interest in classic cars.

In the 'historic' parts of the book, we learn about the interesting history of the 19th century conflict between the tribal, Muslim, people of the Chechen area and the Westernised Russians. Anna, a 'Princess of Georgia', captured by the warriors of Imam Salim (a true historical character), is torn from her 'western' culture and endures life in a tribal village. Her cultural trauma is the opposite of Natasha's.

Without giving further 'spoilers' than that, I can say that I found this part of the book very interesting, both historically and culturally. More so than Natasha's story.

I found the two interlocking parts of the novel didn't hang together too well, though, and could not really say that they either paralleled or complimented each other as much as a book written in this style ought to. It felt like Aboulela was trying to do something which, though well researched, did not really suit her as a writer. Her sensitivity to the nuances of human interactions, a skill I have admired in her writing, wasn't much in evidence, and I wondered what had influenced her to write about this cornery character Natasha who is so discontent and so bruised by life that she seems to struggle with relationships. Natasha is a mess, and Aboulela maybe did succeed in that we certainly feel that about her. Anna, the historical Georgian princess, comes over far more 'together'. And her Aboulela is able to make a feminist point about how women were treated as much like chattels in the Western as in the Muslim culture.

A book for historians and social/cultural enthusiasts, which may not entertain all this writer's fans.

How to Make a Living with Your Writing:  Books, Blogging and More (Books for Writers Book 2)
How to Make a Living with Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More (Books for Writers Book 2)
Price: £1.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive Guide for Really Serious Indie Writers, 10 July 2015
This is the first I’ve read of Joanna Penn’s books, and it makes an exciting and interesting read. It’s a book to encourage and inspire, it;s well laid out in easily-read and considered chunks, clearly written in a very accessible style, and super-informative. Helpfully, she gives website URL’s within the text where you can access examples and further information.This author is excited by her subjects and she wants her readers tone excited too.

She includes hints and tips on all aspects of writing, from how to ‘fill the creative well’ and keep it topped up, how to achieve a book description that’ll draw your target audience, to explaining the pros and cons of trade versus independent publishing, and where you can find those necessary multiple streams of income. It’s all equally carefully and positively presented.

So is there any downside? Well, as a woman who has worked in the financial sector, IT, travelled the world, studied and worked in countries other than her native Britain (she ran a diving business in New Zealand), Joanna Penn has a wide and useful set of talents, skills, and experience. She’s applied these with single-minded focus to her now-chosen career of writing. So, while this is an excellent book on the how-to of becoming an author-entrepreneur, it may not work quite the same for everyone. Others with less experience can learn a lot from this very comprehensive and readable book, but to be really successful they will need to add, and apply, whatever skills, experiences, and special talents are personal to them to achieve a similar living as a writer. It’s a steep learning curve, towards what those with the right combination of creative and hard work, can find a very satisfying lifestyle in the world of new publishing options.

I received a pre-publication copy in return for an honest review.

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