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Ms P. E. Vernon "Verns" (Weston-Super-Mare, England)

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Nothing is Heavy
Nothing is Heavy
Price: £5.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, sad, quirky and DIFFERENT!, 8 Jan 2014
This review is from: Nothing is Heavy (Kindle Edition)
Damn, this is a good book! Most of the action takes place over the course of one hectic night in Edinburgh, where the lives of a pole dancer, chip shop worker and a man on a stag night dressed in a monkey costume collide. However, their stories are more interwoven than is immediately apparent, since their lives have other connections that we learn about through the course of the book.

The story is in turns funny, sad, bizarre and quirky but, most of all, it has totally believable characters so I found myself blithely accepting some rather unlikely scenarios and coincidences.

My one annoyance is that the book is difficult to get hold of if you don't live in Edinburgh or have a Kindle. I wish more mainstream bookshops would stock it. I know it's a first novel and they'd have to take a punt on it but it really does deserve a wider audience. I was lucky to receive a recommendation about the book from a Scottish friend, otherwise I wouldn't have known of its existence.

If you get a chance to read it, please do - I don't think you'll be disappointed.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.46

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I liked it - I just didn't love it..., 2 Aug 2013
I was looking forward to this, to the extent that it was elevated to the top of Mount TBR despite being bought only last week. So perhaps my expectations were unrealistically high and my disappointment inevitable.

I hasten to add that this is not a bad book: I don't think Neil Gaiman is capable of writing a bad book. The prose is beautiful, the story is often gripping and tense, and there is a real empathy for a child's view of the world that other writers often struggle to find.

And yet... I think it's because I feel cheated. The book is only 250 pages long, say 50,000 words. Neil Gaiman says at the end that it started out as a short story, and I think it shows. With the exception of our narrator, some interesting characters are under-developed. Maybe it's the natural result of the narrator being seven years old for most of the book (it's told in flashback by his older self) so that what he sees and understands is less complex than an adult might grasp, but I'd like to have known more about the Hempstock women and their adversaries.

The book is familiar fantasy territory for Neil Gaiman - the 'nightmares coming true' scenario for children, and although I understand that the book is aimed at adults rather than the teenage market, it has the feeling of a young adult book like Coraline or The Graveyard Book.

All in all, I'm glad I read it and would recommend it although, if you haven't read Neil Gaiman before, I wouldn't start with this one or you'll wonder what all the fuss is about.

Broken Harbour
Broken Harbour
by Tana French
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliantly written book, but a bleak story, 17 July 2013
This review is from: Broken Harbour (Paperback)
Broken Harbour is an excellent book, very well written, deeply atmospheric and compelling, yet I almost wish I'd never read it.

Detective Mike Kennedy is assigned to investigate a particularly horrific multiple murder - almost a classic 'closed door' case, with an attack on a perfect family, the husband and wife found on the kitchen floor while their children are lying dead in their beds upstairs.

So we start with a bleak story, the obvious conclusion that the husband, having lost his job, has killed his family and committed suicide. But things don't quite add up, there is a survivor from the horror, and an alternative theory begins to emerge. There are mysteries aplenty - why was the computer wiped clean? What is the reason for all those baby monitors? And why are there bizarre holes in the walls?

The strength of this novel is not just in the story, nor even in the complex character of our protagonist, Mike Kennedy, whose strong voice dominates the book. Rather, it is in gradually unravelling a bleak portrait of post-Celtic Tiger boom Ireland. Regrettably, it is the bleakness that remains with me as my abiding memory of the book, and is the reason I say I wish I hadn't read it. I hasten to add that it doesn't mean I don't recommend it - I do - just a warning that it is (did I mention?) bleak...

by Nick Harkaway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Okay, but not as good as it thinks it is, 8 July 2013
This review is from: Angelmaker (Paperback)
Oh, I wanted to love this book, I really did. For the first few chapters, I was thrilled by the cracking good writing, the interesting characters and the comedic introduction to Edie Banister, superspy and old age pensioner. I was practically rubbing my hands with glee in anticipation of a good read. And yet, somewhere along the way, I found myself struggling to finish the book.

I think I started getting lost in the plotting very early on, when we jump about in time to discover why Joe Spork, clockmaker and thoroughly nice guy, is being visited by the sinister Messrs Cummerbund and Titwhistle. I don't mind a plot being far-fetched (this is so far-fetched you practically have to visit another galaxy to bring it back) but I do like there to be some narrative flow. There is none - the plot unfolds in jagged clumps and it all feels uneven, with a lot of words being dedicated to seemingly unimportant bits, while whole areas of people's lives are dealt with in a quick paragraph.

I started off loving the characterisation, which concentrates on Joe Spork and Edie Banister. They're great, but there are lots of other potentially interesting characters who are treated more perfunctorily. I particularly disliked the characterisation of Polly Cradle, and it took me a while to realise why I didn't take to her. Then it dawned on me that she is a one-dimensional character who takes the sexual initiative - in other words, a teenage boy's fantasy woman. There's a fair amount of gratuitous sex but an awful lot of truly dreadful violence as well. I don't think it adds to the story to describe torture in quite such graphic detail, but maybe I'm just squeamish.

I don't mind a bit of back story, so Joe's childhood and Edie's battles with Shem Shem Tsien are interesting and could practically warrant being a prequel (George R R Martin would have squeezed a couple of extra books out of these bits, no problem). Again, it's the unevenness that jars, when we get mere dribs and drabs of other significant back stories (Frankie and Mathew are both sadly neglected in this area).

On the plus side, I really liked Nick Harkaway's description of London, which feels like a city I have never visited rather than one I have lived in for most of my life. In many respects, Angelmaker reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, with its Night Market (Floating Market), Ruskinites (Black Friars) and even Mr Cummerbund and Mr Titwhistle, (Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar).

There is plenty to enjoy, but plenty to irritate as well, I fear. It's a bold book, and Nick Harkaway has a terrific imagination. What he doesn't have is a good editor to trim the book into shape. If he can get that bit right in the future, I might even give his next book a go.

Me Before You
Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.50

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Most people really love this book - I'm not one of them..., 3 July 2013
This review is from: Me Before You (Paperback)
People love this book. I mean, really, really love this book. As I write this, it has 2,999 reviews on Amazon, and 2,578 of those reviews give it five stars. There are eight pages - yes, eight pages - at the start of the paperback, of rave reviews. The heavyweight papers (Telegraph, Times, Indy) like it as much as the tabloids. It's 'Irresistible', 'Genuinely moving', 'Superbly crafted'. Did I mention? People love this book.

Of those 2,999 reviews on Amazon, 76 give it three stars. Okay, make that 77 out of 3,000 reviews and count me in.

I mean, don't get me wrong, it's okay. It's superior chick-lit; there are moving moments and funny moments and the characters are (mostly) likeable, but... did I care what happened to these people? No. Did I weep at the sad bits (as did most of those reviewers)? No. Will I keep the book to re-read? No. It's off to the charity shop with this one, where I'm sure somebody else will really, really love it.

The story: Louisa Clark loses her job at the café and takes a six month post as companion/carer to Will Traynor, a young man who is a quadriplegic following an accident. Will is a privileged, rich young man who had been a successful businessman and gung-ho traveller; he is devastated by his condition and wants to commit suicide: Lou comes from the other side of the tracks, lives with her parents, sister, nephew and grandfather, and has hardly ever left her small town. This is chick-lit. Fill in the gaps.

I think my main problem is with Will's character. The story is written primarily from Lou's point of view in the first person. Every now and then, the author has devoted a chapter to other characters (Will's mother, father, carer, and Lou's sister) to speak in the first person. This gives us some much-needed insight into their motivations and emotions. But where is Will's voice? He's the one disabled person in this story, which is nominally a love story but is primarily concerned with Dignitas and disabled people's right to die. So it's just a bit odd that we never get to hear what he has to say, except when filtered through able-bodied people's perceptions. The result is that I still don't know what to make of Will, or whether I care one way or another if he lives or dies. Is that a horrible thing to say? Probably. But he's only a character in a novel, so sue me.

The Snow Child
The Snow Child
by Eowyn Ivey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.18

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting re-working of a Russian fairy tale, 27 Sep 2012
This review is from: The Snow Child (Paperback)
The Snow Child is a re-telling of the Russian fairy story, Snegurochka, about a childless old couple who, through their longing for a child, create a little girl from snow who then comes alive. Eowyn Ivey has set her version of the story in the harsh wilderness of Alaska in the 1920s, where Jack and Mabel are struggling to create a new life for themselves, having left behind in Pennsylvania the sadness of a stillbirth.

Sometimes I start reading a book and know in the first page or two whether I'll like it or not. Of course, my 'liking' in this case has nothing to do with the plot, the narrative thrust or the characterisation; it is all about the quality of the writing. The Snow Child is a book that captivated me from its opening chapter. There is something about the rhythm of the writing, the cadence, the poetry, that gave me the happy glow of knowing I was going to enjoy this book.

And the rest of the story does not disappoint. Eowyn Ivey (incidentally, what a lovely name!) has achieved a small miracle with this, her debut novel. Re-telling a fairy story in modern times has its dangers - the author has to balance fantasy with reality, avoiding both whimsy and bathos. I was moved by the story, even at its most fanciful, since it is grounded in real human emotion. There is sadness in this book, but also moments of great joy.

And woven throughout the novel, indeed at its heart, is the wild, harsh beauty of Alaska.

Highly recommended.

Diary 2012 - 2012 Masterplan for World Domination
Diary 2012 - 2012 Masterplan for World Domination

5.0 out of 5 stars Best diary ever!, 24 Aug 2012
I bought a copy for my daughter's Christmas stocking, and another one as a 'tree' present for my daughter-in-law. My DIL saw my daughter's copy in the morning and raved over it, so was delighted to get her own copy in the afternoon.

They both still love their diaries, half a year on. The jokey entries come thick and fast, cheering up the dullest day, yet there's still room for boring stuff like appointments. I really hope The Bright Side brings out a new version for 2013 - it's a winner.

How I Conquered High Cholesterol Through Diet and Exercise
How I Conquered High Cholesterol Through Diet and Exercise
Price: £0.99

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not the end of the world..., 10 Aug 2012
I embarked on a health kick in January 2012 - having given up alcohol years ago and smoking a year ago, I began a daily exercise regime and filled my diet with extra fruit and vegetables. So when a nagging knee pain started getting in the way of my daily walk/run, I was devastated to be told by my GP that I had a high cholesterol level - 8.1 on the Richter scale. Damn and blast and botheration! I did some quick research on the internet - goodbye cheese, butter, cream, biscuits, everything FUN to eat, basically. I was sunk.

So it was with doom and gloom and some trepidation that I downloaded Liz Broomfield's account of how she tackled a similar problem and overcame it, without the use of drugs.

Well, hallelujah! It is not, apparently, the end of the world as we know it to adopt a low-fat diet. Thanks to Liz's no nonsense approach and a simple set of foolproof rules, I went on an exploratory expedition to my local supermarket, armed with her list of do's and dont's and a pair of reading glasses (why is nutritional information on labels so bloody difficult to read?).

I have also become a fan of rapeseed oil (or canola, as our American friends sensibly call it). It is high in monounsaturated fat and is, therefore, a thoroughly good thing. Where Liz wept when she found she couldn't have dark chocolate, I practically wept with gratitude when I found mayonnaise made with rapeseed oil that, while marginally over my allowance, could sit in my fridge as an occasional treat. In fact, thanks to this helpful guide, I didn't have to weep at all because there are perfectly acceptable alternatives to most of my favourite food. I can even have Eton Mess for pudding, using fat-free Greek yoghurt instead of cream, because meringues have no fat and are therefore allowed.

On the negative side, the discovery that I can eat macaroons was such a joy that I have eaten more than I should and have put on weight. Still, I can hardly blame the author for my gluttony and am so grateful for her sensible, well-written advice that I have no hesitation in giving it five fat-free stars.

UPDATE - February 2013. Hurrah! My cholesterol level is down from 8.1 last July to 6.6, all thanks to the helpful advice in this book. Thank you, Liz Broomfield. :)

The J. M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society
The J. M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society
by Barbara J. Zitwer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A damp squib of a book, 20 May 2012
Joey, an overworked New York architect, is in the Cotswolds to oversee the restoration of Stanway House - the stately home that inspired J M Barrie to write Peter Pan. There's a widowed caretaker with a teenage daughter (I think we can see where this is going) and a gaggle of old ladies who swim daily in a local pond and whose joie de vivre apparently inspires her (well, it says so on the back of the book, so that must be right).

I like a bit of chick-lit, providing it is well-written and holds my attention. Regrettably, The J M Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society is not terribly well-written (it lacked a firm hand from the editor) and its promising plot-lines fizzle out like so many damp squibs. None of the characters is terribly convincing, nor do I believe their behaviours. It's all a bit writing-by-numbers for me.

Just one example: in the opening chapter, our heroine Joey does a 45 minute presentation to the English management company about her plans for the restoration of Stanway House. She talks about her passion for and knowledge of J M Barrie, who stayed in Stanway House while writing Peter Pan. That's practically the last we hear of J M Barrie. More than a hundred pages later, and she is still drawing up proposals and thinking about investigating construction permits and building supplies. She does so little work on the project during her stay in the UK that I was surprised her firm didn't sack her.

And there are silly howlers throughout. To quote just one example: Joey moves into an apartment in Stanway House and notes that she'll have to get by without a kitchen. But all that seems to have been forgotten later on in the book, when she draws up a `to do' list over coffee and toast in that same kitchen-less apartment.

Comparing this effort to the glorious Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (as the Daily Fail apparently did) is a travesty - but the contrivance of the title, together with the jacket design, rather lead me to believe that such a comparison was what the publishers had in mind. Piffle.

The Sentry: A Joe Pike Novel (Elvis Cole 12)
The Sentry: A Joe Pike Novel (Elvis Cole 12)
by Robert Crais
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.24

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing entry in an otherwise excellent series, 15 May 2012
What a shame. I am a big fan of American crime novels of this type, with wise-cracking, hard as nails but ultimately soft as butter detectives: Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder; Harlen Coben's Myron Bolitar; Michael Connelly's Hieronymous Bosch; and Robert Crais' double act of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike (to name but a few).

But, after a series of excellent unputdownable books featuring Elvis and Joe (LA Requiem and The Last Detective being outstanding), The Sentry is a disappointing, formulaic book that I struggled to finish.

The opening gambit: Joe stumbles across a sandwich shop owner being beaten up, gets involved and takes a shine to the store owner's niece, Dru. Before they've had time to do much more than smile at each other across the coffee cups, Dru and her uncle have disappeared and Joe sets off to find them and protect them against unidentified enemies who clearly mean them no good.

Robert Crais is normally very good not only at the relationship between Elvis and Joe, but also at establishing believable minor characters. But he singularly fails to deliver on either of these aspects. The sinister killer, Dru and her uncle, FBI agents and police officers all have a part to play, but not one of them reads like a real character.

Ultimately, this feels like a book written because his publishers were pressing him to write another one to appease the fans. But if Crais really has nothing more to say about Elvis and Joe, it's about time he moved on to something different, as he has already proved he can do with The Two Minute Rule and Hostage.

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