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Karura (London)
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50 Ways to Find a Lover
50 Ways to Find a Lover
by Lucy-Anne Holmes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good fun for fans of Bridget Jones, 24 Jun 2009
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Sarah Sergeant had planned to give up on love- after all, when you're 29 years old and have just been told by the balding, paunchy guy at the pub that he'd rather stay in and watch the Narnia movie than go out with you, it's hard not to lose hope. Nonetheless, her family have other ideas, and when egged on by their general insanity, Sarah finds herself embarking on a new mission- to try out fifty different ways of finding a lover.

Based on the author's own blog, 50 Ways to Find a Lover blurs fantasy and reality to create something not unlike Bridget Jones's Diary- the tale of a slightly hopeless `singleton' who spends so long chasing the handsome bad boy that she fails to notice the supportive good guy waiting patiently in the background. Yes, Bridget Jones did it first and did it better, but this book still manages to be both entertaining and easy to read.

In the down side, the book is rather predictable and the fact that it is basically a slight embellishment of the author's life is a little unsettling, but overall this is a light piece of `chick lit'- and if you need just such a thing to laze with on the beach this summer, then you won't go far wrong if you pack this into your suitcase.


The Winner Stands Alone
The Winner Stands Alone
by Paulo Coelho
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Early promise petered out by the end, 15 Jun 2009
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Igor is a man on a mission. Amidst the extravagance of the Cannes Film Festival and the excesses of the Superclass, he has sworn to destroy entire worlds to get his ex-wife Eva back- and with that in mind, he embarks on an ambitious twenty-four hour killing spree to demonstrate that nothing will come between their relationship.

The modern obsession with celebrity is an easy target to attack, but having enjoyed The Alchemist, I was willing to read what Coelho had to say on the subject. With that in mind, the novel started well enough, introducing a variety of characters and making them interesting with insights into their back stories and personalities. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, as the novel progresses, you wait for the pace to pick up, and it never does. Many of the characters you started to invest your time in are killed by Igor, whilst the others merely peter out into insignificance, leaving you to wonder whether they had any point to the story at all.

Whilst Paulo Coelho is undoubtedly a good writer, unfortunately this is not one of his stronger efforts; as a vehicle for ranting about the superficiality of fame, this performs well enough, but as a novel to read, enjoy and think about, it doesn't quite make it.


Baking Cakes in Kigali
Baking Cakes in Kigali
by Gaile Parkin
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.09

4.0 out of 5 stars A real gem- one for fans of Chocolat, 6 Jun 2009
This review is from: Baking Cakes in Kigali (Hardcover)
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Angel Tungaraza, her husband and their five orphaned grandchildren have moved from their native Tanzania to Rwanda, a country struggling to pick itself up again after years of strife. As people slowly open their hearts and learn to enjoy life once again, Angel finds her calling in creating fabulous cakes for all kinds of parties and celebrations. Join Angel as she lights up the lives of all around her whilst trying to juggle family life and hot flushes with maintaining a reputation as a `professional somebody'.

As we saw with Chocolat, there's something instantly appealing about character dramas tied together by a common thread of delicious food, and Baking Cakes in Kigali gets the formula exactly right. Mixing together the poignancy of the tragedies in Rwanda with the new hope engendered by people trying to rebuild, the story is never short on human emotion, with each chapter drawing you in and making you want to read the next.

At the heart of the tale is the likable Angel, a down to earth woman who has own problems to work through even whilst finding time to help out her neighbours and bake delicious cakes for her customers. Angel is the warm life and soul of Baking Cakes in Kigali, and there is no one better to invite you into the world of the book and make you feel welcome.

Overall, this is a gem of a novel that shouldn't be overlooked- if you want to feel the warmth of the African sun and imagine the taste of biting into one of Angel's iced cupcakes, go ahead and give it a read.


Wildthorn
Wildthorn
by Jane EAGLAND
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A solid read for older teens, 21 May 2009
This review is from: Wildthorn (Paperback)
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Louisa Cosgrove is an ambitious young woman who longs to defy Victorian convention and become a female doctor- if only her family would let her. Unfortunately, someone has come to believe that she is a bit too troublesome, and so it is that Louisa finds herself locked up in Wildthorn Hall, an asylum for the insane. As the attendants try to convince Louisa that she is really a delusional madwoman named `Lucy Childs', she must cling to her sense of self and try to find a way out of her predicament.

Told from the perspective of the headstrong Louisa, Wildthorn intertwines both past and present as she experiences something that happened to many women of the era- being shut away in a mental asylum simply because she was too much of a nusisance. Although rather predictable and a little clunky in places (whilst reading I didn't realise it was aimed at teenagers rather than adults), overall the book is a good enough read; it should certainly hit the mark with its intended audience, and although it may not go down quite as well with more mature readers, it should still make decent weekend reading.


The Elephant Keeper
The Elephant Keeper
by Christopher Nicholson
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If Black Beauty had been an elephant, his story might have turned out something like this, 12 May 2009
This review is from: The Elephant Keeper (Hardcover)
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When two elephants are brought across to 18th century England, young Tom Page finds himself appointed their keeper- a job he takes to readily despite the strangeness of his new charges. As the elephants grow and mature, Tom forms a strong bond with them- but can anyone else understand the intellect and sensitivity lurking behind those thick grey skins?

Having just finished another book from the same era, I was already in the right frame of mind for The Elephant Keeper, and luckily, for the most part, it delivered the goods. A chronicle of the life of Tom Page and his unusual charges, The Elephant Keeper reads a little like Black Beauty, telling the story of an animal as it passes through different owners and experiences both good and bad times. The difference here is that the elephants (or ultimately just the one of them) gets a constant human companion who tells the story through his eyes. It's a well written novel encompassing both good times and bad, and for the most part it clips along at a good pace with a clarity of description that ensures you can always see the elephants and their antics in your mind's eye.

Unfortunately, the novel does weaken a little in the later stages; the plot meanders a little and the final chapter is a little jarring and probably unnecessary. Nevertheless, with the rest of the book proving so solid, these are minor flaws that shouldn't affect overall enjoyment too much. In short, if you like animals, historical novels or just a plain good read, you'd be well advised to give The Elephant Keeper a try.


The Book of Fires
The Book of Fires
by Jane Borodale
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intensely gripping, 3 May 2009
This review is from: The Book of Fires (Hardcover)
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Agnes Trussel is in trouble. Pregnant with a child from a forced union, she fears the disgrace she will bring to her family- and in desperation she uses stolen coins to flee from her home in 18th century Sussex and seek her fortune in London. There, amidst the chaotic bustle of rich and poor alike, Agnes finds work as an assistant to John Blacklock, a maker of fireworks who seeks to advance his art to the pinnacle of perfection. Yet even as Agnes uncovers the secrets of her employer, she must struggle to keep her own secret safe from those around her- yet as the months go by, discovery seems all too inevitable.

With its solid synopsis and promise of fireworks, The Book of Fires certainly seemed worth a look- and indeed, right from the start, it never failed to please. Although arguably the story of a runaway pregnant girl is nothing new, this novel still proves thoroughly absorbing; told from the perspective of Agnes itself, the story is a well-written piece that brings the characters and settings to life, recreating the sights and sounds of 18th century London, the brilliance of fireworks and the minutiae of Agnes' life. The reason for reading on is as simple as wanting to know Agnes' eventual fate, but fortunately along the way the narrative flows along nicely. Yes, there are a handful of repetitive moments and there could have been more fireworks, but overall it is satisfying enough to make you want to read just one more chapter before you put it down.

Overall, this book is definitely worth reading; if you like historical novels, then give it a try- you won't regret it.


Tokyo Cancelled
Tokyo Cancelled
by Rana Dasgupta
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.65

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promising, but not well executed, 26 April 2009
This review is from: Tokyo Cancelled (Paperback)
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When all flights to Tokyo are postponed because of bad weather, thirteen passengers have no choice but to stay overnight at an airport in the middle of nowhere. As their indignation turns to resignation, however, one of them suggests that they pass the time by telling stories, and so in turn they each turn their hand to creating increasingly wild and fantastical tales.

I have to admit that, when ordering this book, I was expecting something rather different; for starters, perhaps foolishly, I assumed that the presence of Tokyo in the title meant that it had some significance in the story, but ultimately it does not appear at all. I was also expecting the short stories to be somewhat realistic, depicting events in the lives of the storytellers rather than diving into the realms of fantasy.

But enough of what this book isn't- what exactly does it give us? Well, first off the framing story about people stuck in the airport doesn't really add anything to the novel- not only was it so dull that I initially found it hard to get into the nook, but in places the writing style was nothing short of clunky, using the kind of over-the-top metaphor that you might expect from a precocious student in their high school essays.

Fortunately, the stories themselves seemed a lot more promising at first, delivering a mix of dark fantasy with a hint of morality play. Unfortunately, despite their overall potential, even these didn't quite deliver. A lot of the time, the stories seemed to shock just for the sake of it, presenting imagery distasteful enough to turn the stomach for no real purpose. And lack of purpose is ultimately the downfall of many of the tales, which have such lukewarm endings that when you put the book down, you can't even remember if you finished that particular story or not.

In the end, not only was this book not what I wanted, but it couldn't deliver all that well on what it was supposed to be. There were some highlights amongst the thirteen stories, but overall it isn't enough to make me endorse or recommend this novel as more than a token curiosity.


Citizen
Citizen
by Charlie Brooks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.43

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite the next Dick Francis, 21 April 2009
This review is from: Citizen (Paperback)
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Tipper O'Reilly is a poor Irish boy who has a way with horses- no wonder, then, that he ends up pursuing a career as a jockey. But the world of racing is full of hidden snares, and between horse owners, gamblers and a Russian billionaire intent on bullying his way to the top, Tipper soon finds himself in over his head.

Having enjoyed Dick Francis' novels in the past, it seemed only sensible to try out the work of another jockey turned writer, in the hopes of finding a modern successor to the master. Unfortunately, whilst Citizen isn't too bad for a first novel, nor is it particularly inspiring- and it certainly isn't a book I want to read again.

The trouble with Citizen is that, whilst it is readable enough, overall it comes across as a bit too shallow and stereotypical- you have the evil Russians, the poor irish lad, the mysterious femme fatale and so forth. Worse yet, by the time the novel really gets going, the author suddenly seems to get fed up with it all, throwing away all the chapters of set up and development for a rushed ending whose sole purpose seems to be to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible.

Overall, this is a pretty average novel; if you like stories about racing then by all means give it a try, but don't get your expectations too high. This is definitely one to check out from the library and return rather than a novel you'll want sitting on your shelf for years to come.


The Art of Losing
The Art of Losing
by Rebecca Connell
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A solid read, but not outstanding, 29 Mar 2009
This review is from: The Art of Losing (Hardcover)
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Twenty years ago, Nicholas Steiner had an affair with married woman Lydia Knight- a decision that would have serious repercussions and ultimately end in her death. Now, her daughter Louise holds Nicholas responsible for what happens and decides to seek him out, but as she gets closer to the Steiner family, she begins to learn that the past holds more secrets than either of them knew.

Told alternately between the viewpoints of Nicholas in the past and Louise in the present, The Art of Losing is a slow burning novel that builds up the picture of a doomed love, an affair gone wrong, and all the people- both past and present- who were affected by one rash decision. The quality of writing is such that book is enjoyable enough to read, but somehow it still lacks in that spark that would elevate it above the rest. The characters are just a touch too shallow to bring the story to life, and the result is a story that makes a good effort and is a decent enough read at the time, but isn't something you'll be raving about and recommending to all your friends.


About the Author
About the Author
by John Colapinto
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.52

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Conventional thriller with a literary twist, 24 Mar 2009
This review is from: About the Author (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Cal Cunningham has always housed literary aspirations, but after two years as a stock boy in a New York bookstore, even he has to admit that he has a bad case of writer's block. To make matters worse, his roommate- self-effacing law student Stewart- has secretly been working on a novel of his own- one based on Cal's own sexual exploits and personal history! So when Stewart dies in a car accident, Cal considers it only his due to publish the novel under his own name; after all, no one else even knows that Stewart wrote it- or do they?

Everyone knows how the standard thriller goes; the hero commits the `perfect' crime, his life drastically improves, and then someone from his past shows up and it all threatens to fall apart unless he takes drastic action. About the Author is no different, and yet despite taking on a standard storyline, it still proves to be well worth the read. With its fluid writing style and likably flawed protagonist, the novels draws you into the world of Cal on his journey from wannabe author to world class deceiver. You know, of course, that his good fortune cannot last, but even so you just have to read on to see exactly how it all turns out.

Unfortunately, as often happens, things do get a little over the top by the end, with the denouement not quite living up to the rest of the book; even so, this is one novel that is well worth reading. If you're in the mood for a tale of action and drama with a novel (sorry!) twist, you won't go far wrong with this one.


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