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Back Roads
Back Roads
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A thoughtful and sensitive novel, 21 May 2015
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This review is from: Back Roads (Kindle Edition)
This book has been on my wish list for a while. I'd chosen it because I like writers who give insight into communities and lives that are vastly different from my own experience. It's my way of 'travelling the world'.

Tawni O'Dell's stamping ground is rural Pennsylvania and it's grim - a backwater with a legacy of coal mining, poverty, hunting and domestic violence. The central character is Hartley, 18 years old, who is desperately trying to keep his family together after the worst of events: his mother shot his father in the family home. With his mother now in prison, Hartley has become both breadwinner and parent to his three sisters. The story focusses on his worries, his cares and the way that he vacillates between extreme maturity and extreme immaturity: it's a confusing and harsh world for a boy who is barely a man, a boy who has next to no adult support.

I'm very glad that I finally got around to reading this book. Through Harley, O'Dell offers an exploration of the way in which environment and expectations have as much ability to destroy a person as to make a person. A very thoughtful and sensitive piece of writing.


The Observations
The Observations
by Jane Harris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Oh for more people like Bessy, 9 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Observations (Paperback)
It is 1856. A young woman is making her solitary way on foot across central Scotland. Her previous employment has come to an abrupt end and she has had to leave. She doesn't know where she is going. A girl running across her path arouses her curiosity and as she walks to where the girl has come from, she meets Arabella Reid, mistress of Castle Haivers. Thus the story begins.

Whilst the goings on at Castle Haivers might provide some meat to the story, the real enjoyment of this book comes from Bessy: a delightful mixture of innocent bawdiness and down-to-earth practical wisdom. Original and compelling, read this book to find out how Bessy deals with the strangeness of her employers, the challenges of her past and how she keeps her spirit up when the going gets tough. Oh for more people like Bessy.


The Sick Rose
The Sick Rose
by Erin Kelly
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely 'Ruth Rendell' class, 26 Jun. 2014
This review is from: The Sick Rose (Paperback)
Paul is an ordinary young man whose life circumstances have been such that he has found himself deep in friendship with a young man who doesn't share his understanding of honesty. As they reach adulthood, the cracks in the relationship become apparent.

In another earlier time, Louisa is a young woman who rejects the mainstream attitudes of her doctor parents. In experimenting without support, she finds herself in circumstances that she struggles to handle. Her life takes a quieter trajectory, shaped by a secret that is too big to tell.

Until she meets Paul,

I read psychological thrillers for relaxation at the weekend and I expect nothing more from them than that they hold my attention. This one is a 'cut above', certianly better than many that I have read recently. Whilst being both compelling and unputdownable it still took me a couple of days to read it - as someone who is frustrated when a 'thick' book takes no more than an afternoon and evening to read, a book that keeps me going for a bit longer is highly valued.

For once, I think that the comparison to a well-established writer, Ruth Rendell, is justified.


Capital
Capital
by John Lanchester
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

3.0 out of 5 stars An easy and entertaining read, 25 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Capital (Paperback)
Taking a street in London as the main character of the novel, John Lanchester has attempted a literary snapshot of our times. A social document/state of the nation novel, if you will - the question is, will it stand the test of time?

The street is one that was built for the aspirational lower middle class and has, over the years, become only affordable by the very rich or those with astronomical salaries, mirroring the situation that is currently prevailing in London: if you haven't been there for years and years, it's almost impossible to buy your way in.

In order to give shape to a story about the street and its disparate inhabitants, Lanchester adds something odd - dropping regularly through the letterboxes are postcards with a singular mesage: 'we want what you have'. What does it mean and who is sending them?

Whilst I enjoyed reading this novel, it never really gripped me. Being someone who likes to peer through a lit window and imagine the lives of the people within, it was easy to enjoy this element of the story. The downside however, was that it all seemed a bit cliched, a bit run of the mill.

Would I recommend it? With hesitation. I'd probably say it's a bit unexciting, but is easy to read and will probably offer much fodder for discussion - but beyond that, a 'state of the nation novel'? No, not really.


The Things We Never Said
The Things We Never Said
by Susan Elliot-Wright
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An easy and enjoyable summer read, 20 Jun. 2014
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This novel is the old familiar story of how an unwanted and unexpected pregnancy can change the shape of lives and lives to come. I found it to be an easy and enjoyable read, but no more than that. Comparisons to Margaret Forster and Maggie O Farrell are more than a little bit misleading - this book does not stand up to that comparison and readers choosing on that basis are likely to be disappointed.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2015 8:14 AM BST


The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace
by Amitav Ghosh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling Anglo Indian historical family saga, 20 Jun. 2014
This review is from: The Glass Palace (Paperback)
I'm not sure how the author, Amitav Ghosh might respond to the description 'anglo indian saga', but I've chosen that wording for a reason: tis very readable novel is set in an India and a Burma in a time when the British empire held sway, and whilst the backdrop might be Indian and Burmese, 'Britishness' is very pervasive and, for me anyway, makes this novel both accessible and interesting.

The novel begins in Burma, with a young Indian boy, Rajkumar, who must find his way in the world. The British are about to enter Burma, the Burmese King and Queen about to be exiled. Whilst it is a time of endings for the Burmese royalty, it is a time of new beginnings for the young who can seize opportunites. And so Rajkumar makes his fortune.

Rajkumar marries and has a family. As his children grow against the backdrop of two world wars, question of loyalties begin to emerge. Particularly about being an Indian in the British Army. In the postscript, Ghosh mentions that his father served in the British Indian Army in World War Two, and the impression is that a lot of this novel was written as a means of exploring the past, particularly what it meant for those who mutinied during the Japanese invasion of Malaya and Burma.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy historical family sagas.

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Maya's Notebook
Maya's Notebook
by Isabel Allende
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed Feelings, 1 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Maya's Notebook (Paperback)
As the story opens, Maya is almost twenty. Raised in California by her Chilean grandmother, the death of her grandfather has sent Maya off the rails. As a runaway on the streets of Las Vegas, she is out of her depth - and events conspire to make Maya very vulnerable indeed. Fortunate enough to be rescued by her family, Maya is sent to the Chilean island of Chiloe, where safety and recovery are the order of the day.

For me, this was a book of extremes that didn't quite gel: Las Vegas drug barons and olde worlde customs on the edge of Chile: can a twenty year old girl really get deeply involved in both of these worlds? Maya's narrative voice is clumsy, giving the impression that Allende struggled to give her the voice and observations of a twenty year old, The overall effect is of a 'dumbing down' and I wonder what the intended readership is - people in their late teens/early twenties maybe?

Having read and loved 'Paula', I expected more of this novel. But overall, disappointingly, it was too superficial.


Carnival for the Dead (Nic Costa Mysteries Book 10)
Carnival for the Dead (Nic Costa Mysteries Book 10)
Price: £4.68

4.0 out of 5 stars Venice in February - and a mysterious disappearance, 11 April 2014
It is Venice in February. Teresa Lupo and her mother have received a strange communication from Teresa's aunt who lives in Venice. It seems like a cry for help. Alighting from the vaporetta, they step straight into a mystery: Sofia is nowhere to be found, The only clues are a series of puzzling manuscripts that keep arriving in the post.

At 450 pages, this is a longer and more complex read than the standard thriller and will probably satisfy a more demanding reader, although some parts were a bit laboured and could test the patience of some.

For me, it was an enjoyable read but not a spectacular one. It is quite atmospheric with regard to Venice, but as I have never been, I've no idea how representative that might be. I didn't really enjoy the characters, until the end, when they all took their masks off, but did enjoy the plot.

Would I recommend it - if you like atmospheric mysteries, give it a go for a bit of entertaining escapism or a relaxing read.


Glengettie 250 g (Pack of 12)
Glengettie 250 g (Pack of 12)
Price: £23.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for Scottish (Argyll) water to0, 11 April 2014
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I'm a regular drinker of leaf tea, but not a connoisseur, I like a good well rounded cup of tea. I noticed that Glengettie was blended for Welsh water and wondered how well it would brew here in rural Argyll. Perfectly - it makes a great cup of tea. Buying 12 packs at once also makes it very economical.


The Rich Are Different
The Rich Are Different
by Susan Howatch
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wealth and power in 1920s American banking families, 27 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: The Rich Are Different (Paperback)
I've been a fan of Susan Howatch since reading The Wheel Of Fortune a few years ago. I thought I had picked a fairly standard epic saga, but on that I was much mistaken - I had picked a racy, intelligent and brilliant story that was cleverly underpinned by being a modern day telling of an historical event.

This novel, 'The Rich are Different', has been written on the same premise. It is a modern day retelling of Antony and Cleopatra. It begins in London in the early 1920s and is largely set among the banking fraternity of New York - years of boom and greed, followed by the crash in 1929. There are five protagonists in this story: Paul Van Zane, wealthy New York banker; Sylvia, Paul's 'perfect' wife; Dinah, impoverished English aristocracy; Cornelius, privileged nephew of Paul and Steve, also an American banker. The story is told from each of the five perspectives, giving the reader different angles on the same world.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, but not as much as The Wheel Of Fortune - so, if you are contemplating your first Susan Howatch, then I'd have reservations about recommending this particular book. It's possibly that I feel this way because in this novel there are a large number of people, espcially babies - possibly an inherent problem when the subject matter is a dynasty - and ultimately, it was a bit difficult to keep track of everyone.

Overall, however, I can sum this up as an intelligent exploration of the themes of wealth and power, that, coupled with the Howatch's trademark racy dialogue offers some turns of phrase and observations that are an absolute delight.


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