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Alison Leonard (Chester United Kingdom)
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The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd (World as Home)
The Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd (World as Home)
by Mary Rose O'Reilley
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.32

5.0 out of 5 stars Read it again and again, 24 Feb 2014
This is one of my all-time favourite books of spiritual wisdom. I'm now on my third reading, and I know I will come back to it many more times. Why? Because it has two qualities that are rare in spiritual writing: it's original, and this woman can truly write. She's gritty, funny, unexpected, and every so often she comes up with something that says to you: 'I knew that - but I didn't know I knew it.' One 'health warning': some of the shepherd stuff is gruesome. But it all adds to the growth of this writer and this reader. She has a wonderful sense of irony, is honest to the bone, and if she doesn't know the answer, boy, will she say so. Whether it's sheep s***, Catholic nunnery, sex or Buddhist precepts, everything comes in for her whole-hearted, humane, deeply questioning response. Brilliant.


Various Pets Alive and Dead
Various Pets Alive and Dead
by Marina Lewycka
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, yes, but deep too, 3 Feb 2014
I'm a great fan of ML and this is well up to standard at the same time as being quite different from each of her others. Laugh out loud, yes, but with keen insights into the seductive, addictive nature of City gambling and how it gambles away huge chunks of all our lives. The Marxists are wonderfully and intimately portrayed, with their learning disabled, truth-telling daughter the heroine of many scenes. Skilfully plotted, warm of heart - first rate.


Longbourn
Longbourn
Price: 3.49

5.0 out of 5 stars To be put on your shelf worthily beside P&P, 21 Jan 2014
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This review is from: Longbourn (Kindle Edition)
Well, Tom Stoppard, you have a competitor in the Rosencrantz & Guildenstern stakes. But this is far more than a 'famous work of literature seen from the back- or under-side'. It's a hugely impressive novel in its own right. Beware: this is not a means of understanding Lizzie Bennet better than you did from your many re-readings of P&P; it is a whole new world, one which will turn your P&P world upside-down. How did you feel about Mr Bennet? Fluffy, bit stuffy, stuck in his library to retreat from his wife's Nerves? Think again...

The servants, Sarah, James, Mrs Hill, Ptolemy, are all human beings brought to wild and sympathetic life by Jo Baker. The plot is intricate, the setting and details totally convincing.

Eat your heart out, Jane (if that can happen in the Great Retirement Home For Novelists In The Sky). This one, dare I say it, trumps yours. As for Bridget Jones, forget it. This is the real thing.


Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life
Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life
Price: 9.51

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex life vividly and lovingly portrayed, 21 Jan 2014
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I love Penelope Fitzgerald's writing, and have wondered - as so many people do throughout this book - 'How does she do it?' Hermione Lee has responded to the family's request for her to write this biography by doing it frankly, faithfully, with full respect for PF's reticence, silences and idiosyncrasies. By the end I felt that I knew PF as well, or as little, as one of her friends might have known her; that her life experiences were extraordinarily rich and cavernous in range; and that I now understand her work a great deal better. Though I still don't know how she did it.

I recommend the book very warmly.


Instructions for a Heatwave
Instructions for a Heatwave
by Maggie O'Farrell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.11

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better at second reading, 4 Oct 2013
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I first bought this to read on my Kindle, and loved it so much that I had to buy it for my hand and for my shelf. I've always admired the energy and the flow of Maggie O'Farrell's writing - how past and present interweave, while she keeps you absolutely in the moment; how sensations, thoughts and insights swoosh alongside twisting plots and magical characterisation. This time she excels with her Riordan family: no short cuts, no easy answers, this family goes in for tough and traumatic relationships - but there's such love in there too, such generosity in the writing. As Maggie says in an afterword, 'Nobody knows you quite like a sibling or a parent, and yet nobody is liable to misunderstand you with such conviction'. Even the youngest children are wild or pernickety characters in their own right.
Here are two of the many, many quotes that will stay with me, which demonstrate the complexities and contradictions of this family. First, Gretta on hearing that her son is to marry a non-Catholic, "(From the bathroom, rattling her pills): 'You may as well kill me now.' 'Fine,' Aoife murmurs. 'Who wants to go first?'" And second, "'Just say it,' Aoife says, still with her back turned. 'It's a word everybody knows, except you, it seems. It begins with s.' 'I'm sorry,' Monica says, to her sister's rigid back."
And while the ending is almost completely happy, my mind begins to imagine the perils to come for each of the characters' new lives. It's still alive, long after I've closed the book.


Turned Out Nice Again: On Living With the Weather
Turned Out Nice Again: On Living With the Weather
by Richard Mabey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 6.29

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mabey's writing marred by poor proof-reading, 5 July 2013
I love Richard Mabey's writing but half way through the first chapter I was already distracted into looking for the next proof-reading error. His publishers, Profile, should be ashamed of themselves. Do they think that readers don't care about such details? I can assure them that we do. I shall persevere, but with a less reputable writer I would have given up.


Flight Behaviour
Flight Behaviour
Price: 3.66

5.0 out of 5 stars Can't stop thinking about it, 20 May 2013
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This review is from: Flight Behaviour (Kindle Edition)
Since finishing this novel a week ago I've grabbed the ears of anyone who would listen to me singing its praises. OK I'm a Greenie, and I'd heard about monarch butterflies. What thrilled me was to enter into the life of a young woman trapped in a small world and ensnared by poverty, whose feelings are complicated (she loves her husband and children at the same time as finding her life with them tedious and frustrating) and to see, through her eyes, a whole new world. Time and again she lapses back into Romantic Teenager mode, thinking that THIS man will surely save her, and has to haul herself back into the world of reality, the world which may, quite soon, change her and her family's fate forever.

Occasionally I got confused by the American cultural references, but I didn't care, I took those on trust. Often I laughed out loud - for instance, when the scientist's rant at an oil-sponsored TV presenter's attempt at an interview was caught on YouTube and went viral. Once I gasped, when one particularly unattractive character was revealed in a whole new light... no, TWO characters. Became new people. In one sentence.

I haven't managed to settle to any other novel since putting it down.


The Last Runaway
The Last Runaway
by Tracy Chevalier
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning slow burn of a novel, 22 Mar 2013
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This review is from: The Last Runaway (Hardcover)
I knew something of the background to this story - about Quaker principles and history, and about the 'Underground Railroad' that helped runaway slaves to escape north. But the reason why Tracy Chevalier is a such a good novelist is that my knowledge made not a scrap of difference to my reading. Her research is deeply embedded, and every aspect of the story is mediated through the characters and urged forward by the story.

At first the storytelling seemed gentle, quite slow-paced, and I thought, 'Isn't this a tale about runaways?' Only towards the end did I realise why: the 'last runaway' is actually not an escaped slave at all.

The bravest aspect of the novel is that she's writing about characters who are good, which is much harder to make vivid than writing about those who are bad. Slowly and credibly we're shown that goodness doesn't come in packages, nor even by the human will, but arrives patiently and sometimes unexpectedly. Not one of the people walking the pages of this novel are wholly good or wholly bad, but reveal themselves in all their complexity. So we feel, by the end, that we've truly met them, known them.

A word about structure. The chapter headings are wonderful leads to the mood of each part, while the letters in between give the narrative a chance to leap forwards. The slow-burn is followed by a shock, which is followed by the chance to absorb that shock.

Highly recommended. Put aside some time - you won't be able to leave this novel alone.


Effect, The
Effect, The
by Linda Hoy
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific - though I argued with it, 7 Feb 2013
This review is from: Effect, The (Paperback)
I found this a wonderfully written book, full of incident and challenge. I'm totally with her on life after death - I've experienced my own difficult mother's voice, 20 years after her death, asking for forgiveness. I wanted to argue, though, about pre-cognition and telepathy. My experience is that my hopes and fears create a sense of contact or foreboding, so I am sceptical about such reports. I suspect too that quantum theory is at too early a stage for us to make the leaps of connection that Linda Hoy does. That said, it's a terrific book and I'm grateful to her for putting her head above this particular parapet.


Valentine Grey
Valentine Grey
by Sandi Toksvig
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, a revelation, 5 Nov 2012
This review is from: Valentine Grey (Hardcover)
I went to hear Sandi at a LitFest event because I love her as a comedian, and had no idea that she's a brilliant novelist as well. She could easily be 'literary' but instead she chooses an immediate, unpretentious story-telling style which rollicks along. I was enjoying it hugely until... until it got to South Africa and the Boer War. Then I was gripped in a vice. Page after ghastly page, I lived it all with Valentine, the woman-man turned man-woman, who experiences everything from both perspectives.

This truly is the forgotten war: I was vaguely aware that we Brits had invented the Concentration Camp there, but otherwise I'd just heard little clips like 'died of enteric at Bloemfontein'. War fiction usually makes me feel sick - I was a wimp and skipped chunks of Birdsong, for instance - but this held me against all the odds; it was a revelation. And Reggie's story had me weeping. From hilarious theatrical fun and parties with his glorious lover Frank right through to the (very, very) bitter end, it broke my heart. An absolutely stunning novel.

Sorry to reach for a cliche - it's a must-read.


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