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The Dresskeeper
The Dresskeeper
Price: £2.30

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wickedly funny, 19 Mar. 2011
This review is from: The Dresskeeper (Kindle Edition)
I loved the opening to The Dresskeeper so much that I bought the book before I'd even finished the first page of the Kindle sample. Despite its title and cover, which imply a fairly straight-laced historical romance, The Dresskeeper is for a large part a darkly comic look at such modern perils as dementia, body image and absent fathers. In fact, the scenes that are central to the plot where 21st century teenager, Picky, travels through time to the London of the 1600s rarely live up to the sheer wit and exuberance of the sections set in the modern day.

That's not to say that the past sections don't have their strong points. Naylus succeeds where many better-known authors have failed and makes the past a living and vibrant place. The past is also where the most moving and poignant sections of the novel take place.

However, despite being the funniest thing I've read in years, I wasn't able to award The Dresskeeper top marks. The novel is littered with plot holes, anachronisms and implausibilities. Some leeway can be given because this is a comedy and a young-adult novel, but they were so numerous they did intrude on my enjoyment of the book. It's easy to criticise Naylus for this, but her publishers should also take some of the blame as they really should have pointed these out.


The Girl on the Swing
The Girl on the Swing
Price: £2.23

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and emotive, 18 Mar. 2011
This is an absolutely wonderful novel and Ali Cooper's lyrical and elegant writing will stay with you long after you've closed the final page. The story expertly mixes modern day tragedy with past life drama which results in a poignant and moving novel. It addresses big themes such as our relationship with the past, relationships across the class divide and the affects of loss and it never fails to hit the mark with them.

Cooper is particularly adept at creating a believable and multi-faceted central character. Every word is written exactly as you would expect it to be by the central character, Julia, a middle-aged doctor who has long self-censored her feelings and ideas in order to conform with her domineering husband and the society that she moves in. I found it extremely refreshing to read a book where a middle-aged woman was the central character.

This is the kind of novel which, if it had been published by one of the big publishers, would have been nominated for a string of awards. That it hasn't been is undoubtedly the fault of the award-givers and not Ali Cooper.


Never Let Me Go
Never Let Me Go
Price: £3.79

4.0 out of 5 stars Eerie and thought-provoking, 13 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Never Let Me Go (Kindle Edition)
Never Let Me Go is a haunting novel. Often mistakenly labelled as science-fiction, it keeps discussion of science to a minimum and instead focusses on the moral and philosophical issues that surround its central plot device.

The greatest example of Kazuo Ishiguro's skill in Never Let Me Go is the way that he expertly crafts the voice of his narrator, Kathy. The language and style he uses is perfect for this young female character, inexpert and naïve but vivid and creative, and there was no occasion when the tone of a middle-aged male literary novelist intruded. Her banal descriptions of situations that the reader will find sinister are what create the eerie atmosphere of the novel and enable it to rise above standard dystopian fare.

Never Let Me go is an enigmatic novel. There's plenty of sense that it's an allegory for something much deeper than the mechanics of its plot. It's up to the reader to puzzle it out. Is it about memory? Parenthood? Growing up? Life itself?

The only real problem with the novel is that it failed to engage me on an emotional as well as an intellectual level. Given its storyline, it should have moved me much more. However, overall this is a very powerful novel and one I would definitely recommend.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 29, 2012 11:08 PM GMT


Anna Karenina (Oxford World's Classics)
Anna Karenina (Oxford World's Classics)
by Leo Tolstoy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A novel of two halves, 13 Mar. 2011
Anna Karenina is a wonderful novel. Its tragic tale of adulterous love in 1870s Russia is deservedly a classic the world over. Tolstoy excels at grasping the psychology of his characters and his depiction of Anna and Vronsky's love affair is moving and captivating as a result. He also wraps into that affair a cutting commentary on the society of his day, which is what separates a great novel from a merely good one.

However, as much as I liked Anna Karenina's story, the novel as a whole was let down for me by its parallel narrative following the trials and tribulations of countryside landowner, Levin. The sections involving Levin, a proxy for Tolstoy, are preachy and long-winded. Levin can do no wrong in Tolstoy's eyes and it's easy to get irritated by his idealistic views of peasant life and his sentimental courtship of saccharine Kitty.

The Levin sections, which take up around half the novel, cause the story to drag in places which is why I felt I couldn't award it a perfect score. Anna's story may be a great one, but as a whole novel it failed to live up to other nineteenth-century stories of adultery, Madame Bovary and The Scarlet Letter.


Remix
Remix
Price: £1.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quirky, old-fashioned and quite unlike anything else on the market, 10 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Remix (Kindle Edition)
This is a highly addictive novel, a good old-fashioned murder mystery with a dash of 21st century celebrity glamour. It's a book that is worth far more than the sum of its parts - sometimes cheesy, sometimes predictable, sometimes naïve, but always a rollicking good read. I struggled to put it down. Lexi Revellian is great at crafting a plot that moves at speed but her biggest talent is in creating characters that the reader can really care about, characters that seem like old friends as the novel draws to a close.

Overall, Remix is great fun, extremely entertaining and - dare I say it - would make an excellent transition to the small or big screen.


Ink in the Blood: A Hospital Diary
Ink in the Blood: A Hospital Diary
Price: £0.99

10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but I expected more for my 99p, 22 Feb. 2011
Ink in the Blood is an engaging and thought-provoking account of a hospital stay which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Mantel vividly identifies the awkwardness and discomfort of a modern hospital, while touching on questions of the nature of being an author. However, it's a story that quite literally falls short. It's actually little more than a well-written newspaper article (at 287 `locations' on my Kindle I estimate it's only around 2,500-3,000 words). For 99p I would have expected it to be around three times longer.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are inconsistent, 21 Feb. 2011
I wavered about giving Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead just three stars. The beginning and the ending are great examples of postmodern theatre, but much of the middle of the play seems to be little more than a Waiting for Godot wannabe. The comedy wanes - particularly when the players are involved - , the message gets repetitive and the concept starts to show its age. The sharpness of the beginning is lost and the play lurches forward before redeeming itself in its final act. In places it is indeed very funny and very insightful, but it's far from consistent in my opinion.

As an aside from this, I'd like to warn buyers of the Kindle version that there appears to be a strange error with the ebook. When the pages are turned it's often as likely that you'll end up two pages back or two pages forward as it is that you'll be moved to the following page. This can make reading pretty frustrating so I would definitely recommend getting a print version.


Chess (Penguin Mini Modern Classics)
Chess (Penguin Mini Modern Classics)
by Stefan Zweig
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £3.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grand Master, 20 Feb. 2011
You don't have to be a fan of chess to enjoy this addictive little novella. Zweig's tale of the passengers of a cruise ship who challenge a chess grand master to a match is about much more than just a board game. It's a powerful exploration of genius and of the workings of the human mind. Zweig expertly builds tension and I was compelled to read on to find out the outcome of the match.

This edition was published as part of the Mini Modern Classics series celebrating Penguin Modern Classics' 50th anniversary and after this I'm keen to read more both of this and the other shorts in Penguin's collection. This is a great introduction to Zweig for those, like me, who had previously not read this twentieth century master.


The English Patient
The English Patient
by Michael Ondaatje
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Patience required, 4 July 2010
This review is from: The English Patient (Paperback)
I could spend all day praising the beautiful, lyrical language that Michael Ondaatje uses in The English Patient. The problem is that it's pretty much all there is to the novel, which ultimately lacks power as its story and characters get lost in the languorous meandering of its poetry.

The worst offender is Ondaatje's non-existent characterisation. The characters are for the most part only distinguished from each other by crude markers of race, sex, age and nationality. They speak the same dialogue and think the same thoughts and seem little more than ciphers for Ondaatje's philosophy. Hanna, we are told by the author, is severely traumatised by her experiences during the war, but there is little evidence of it in her speech or actions.

It's a story about the war strangely lacking in horror and harshness, which seems to be smothered by the lyrical language. We don't feel the pain of the English patient's burns, only the beauty of his thoughts. For me, the narrative lacked drive as it drifted and circled around its central events, repeatedly revisiting the same scenes. The best chapters by far were Kip's experiences in the bomb disposal unit where tension and drama were finally allowed to break through the language. But it wasn't enough to redeem the rest of the book for me.


A Kestrel for a Knave (Penguin Decades)
A Kestrel for a Knave (Penguin Decades)
by Barry Hines
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars It's grim up north, 4 July 2010
This heart-wrenching tale following a day in the life of a boy on a 1960s Yorkshire council estate is a powerful study of the hopelessness of society's poor and unloved. Billy Casper, at 15, already has a future mapped out for him down the pit and, rejected by his family, friends and teachers, his one ray of light is his falcon, Kes (she is no pet; he admits that she's not tame, only trained). A Kestrel for a Knave is a brief and beautifully written book and gives the most painful description since Dickens of the horrors of growing up in society's gutter. A must read.


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