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Denise4891 (Cheshire)
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Someone to Watch Over Me
Someone to Watch Over Me
by Madeleine Reiss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars A Mother's Story, 18 Sep 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This was a book of two halves for me - I was enjoying it a lot at first but felt it lost its way a bit in the second half.

Someone To Watch Over Me is the story of two mothers - Carrie who is grief-stricken following the disappearance of her son a few years earlier and the subsequent breakdown of her marriage, and Molly who is struggling bring up her son Max following the departure of his violent father.

I found Carrie's story the most moving. It alternates between flashbacks to that terrible day when her son Charlie disappeared from a crowded beach after she dozed off for a few seconds, and the present day when she is rebuilding her life and opening a small gift shop. The present-day thread is set at Christmas-time, which can be a melancholy time for a lot of people and I thought the writer captured this feeling very well.

What I didn't enjoy so much were the `comedy' subplots featuring Carrie's quirky neighbours, her wacky friend Jen and her overbearing mother. Far from providing light relief, these elements felt forced to me and they jarred with the more serious storylines such as Carrie's grief for her son and the abuse suffered by Molly, which I thought were handled sensitively and compassionately.

The ending is exciting (if a little melodramatic!) and overall I found it an impressive and promising debut novel and Madeleine Reiss is certainly an author I'll read again in the future.


Secrets of the Sea House
Secrets of the Sea House
by Elisabeth Gifford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars House of Secrets, 2 Sep 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have to admit that I was getting a bit tired of the dual-timeframe `buried secrets uncovered in an old house' type of novel, of which there seemed to be a flood a couple of years ago. However, this one caught my eye due to the remote Hebridean setting, and thankfully it turned out to be a cut above a lot of the genre. Some of the publicity has likened it to Rachel Hore's books, but I always find those a bit wishy-washy;`Secrets' is a much more literary, substantial read.

In the contemporary storyline, Ruth is renovating an old manse house on the Isle of Harris with her partner Michael. Buried beneath the floorboards they find a small chest which contains the remains of what at first appears to be a cat or other small creature, but on closer inspection turns out to be the skeleton of a baby whose legs were fused together like a mermaid. Ruth is a prickly and damaged woman, haunted by her troubled childhood. When she moves to Harris (which was her mother's birthplace) she has mixed feelings about delving too deeply into her ancestry and the reasons behind her mother's death, and instead focuses on finding out more about the child who was buried beneath her house.

In the historical thread, Alexander Ferguson is the well-meaning but slightly ineffectual curate who occupies the manse in the 1860s. This is at the time of the brutal clearances of Scottish islands by ruthless landlords who wished to use the land for grazing. The crofters and tenant farmers were evicted from the homes and forced to set sail for Canada, often dying en route due to the terrible conditions on board ship. This part of the story is narrated in turn by Alexander and his maid Moira, who herself was forced to flee her family home when they were evicted and is now struggling to educate and make a life for herself.

The two threads blend together beautifully and both are compelling, though as always with this type of book I tended to prefer the historical storyline which is brimming with magical and mystical Gaelic folklore. All the main characters are believable and appealing (I even warmed to Ruth as more of her story was revealed), and the bleak and brutal landscape of the Outer Hebrides is vividly brought to life, with its harsh winds and rolling, angry sea.

I understand that the book is based on a real letter to The Times in which a 19th century Scottish clergyman claimed to have seen a mermaid. Elisabeth Gifford is obviously very passionate and knowledgeable about the subject matter in her book and I was keen to find out more about her research. Regrettably there was no Author's Note in the copy I read and there's no information on her website at the moment (hopefully this will be rectified as the site develops). In the meantime I can thoroughly recommend this fascinating and engaging novel.


The Lady's Slipper
The Lady's Slipper
Price: £3.59

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling historical fiction, 1 Sep 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I love historical fiction and the English Civil War/Restoration period is fast becoming one of my favourite settings. I really enjoyed Deborah Swift's The Gilded Lily when I read it last year and vowed to read The Lady's Slipper (which is a sort of prequel).

The main character in The Lady's Slipper is Alice Ibbetson, a gentlewoman whose family fell on hard times when their home was ransacked by Cromwell's New Model Army. She entered into a marriage with Thomas Ibbetson more for practical and financial reasons than any great desire. With her marriage stale and unrewarding , Alice's turns for solace to her great love of botany and this leads her to steal a rare and fragile orchid from the land of local farmer Richard Wheeler in order to study and preserve it.

Wheeler is a very intriguing and beguiling character; a former wealthy landowner who fought for Cromwell during the war and converted to Quakerism after witnessing the horrors of battle. After giving away his large estate and purchasing a small farm, he strives to live a simple and Godly life (but is not always successful). His earnest manner and hardline views bring him into conflict with Alice, until they both realise they have far deadlier enemies

The Lady's Slipper is packed with fascinating 17th century period detail and insights into the burgeoning Quaker movement (a group which I always enjoy reading about in historical fiction). As mentioned earlier, The Gilded Lily is a sort-of sequel to TLS in that it features the adventures of Alice's maid Ella Appleby and her sister Sadie after they flee to London. I would recommend that you read the books in order if possible as the fate of several key characters from TLS is revealed at the start of TGL, but having said that I read them the other way round it didn't spoil my enjoyment at all. After finishing the book I immediately went to Amazon to see if Deborah was planning a third instalment and was really pleased to see she has another book coming out in October - A Divided Inheritance. From the synopsis it doesn't appear to feature characters from TLS or TGL, but based on how much I've enjoyed her novels so far, I'll be sure to order a copy.


The Husband's Secret
The Husband's Secret
by Liane Moriarty
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Opening Pandora's Box, 27 Aug 2013
This review is from: The Husband's Secret (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
From the blurb and the slightly sinister cover, I thought this was going to be a darker, edgier read than it turned out to be. I wouldn't describe it as chick-lit exactly, but despite the subject matter it's certainly at the lighter end of the psychological thriller genre.

The book features three women. Cecelia Fitzpatrick is a seemingly perfect `superwoman' - glamorous and capable, she's a loving mother to three lovely daughters and the much-loved wife of the dashing John-Paul. (She's also obsessed with Tupperware, as are several other characters - is it really that big in Australia?) Cecelia's life begins to unravel when she finds a letter hidden away in the loft in which her husband (who intended the letter to be read only after his death) confesses a dreadful secret. John-Paul's secret impacts on the lives of the two other main characters in the book - Tess, who has recently returned to her home town following her husband's betrayal, and Rachel who is still struggling to come to terms with a tragic event from 20 years ago.

Although most of the storyline is set in Sydney, there's quite a small-town, claustrophobic feel to it as the characters' lives are so closely entwined through old high-school romances and their links to the local primary school. This and the fact that the characters are of Irish Catholic descent put me in mind of Maeve Binchy's novels at times,although I don't remember any of the characters in Maeve's books having a secret quite like this one.

The `secret' itself is a shocker and not what I was expecting at all, although with hindsight it shouldn't have been difficult to guess, despite the red herrings thrown in to throw us off the trail. The three female leads are believable and strong, although I didn't always agree with the decisions they made (not sure I would have gone that easy on JP if I was Cecelia). Liane Moriarty is a talented storyteller and The Husband's Secret would make a great holiday or book group read.


Fallen Land
Fallen Land
by Patrick Flanery
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

4.0 out of 5 stars The American Nightmare, 27 Aug 2013
This review is from: Fallen Land (Hardcover)
After being really impressed (and challenged) by Patrick Flanery's debut novel Absolution which I read last month, I was really keen to get my hands on his second book. I'm pleased to say I enjoyed this one even more.

Fallen Land is a chronicle of huge ambitions and shattered dreams. It starts with the horrific lynching of a young black man falsely accused of assaulting a white girl, and the subsequent murder of the judge who tried to spare him, as well as the judge's black tenant farmer (their story is reprised later in the book). The scene having been set, we move to the present day when a descendent of that tenant farmer, retired schoolteacher Louise Washington, is staging a sit-in protest in her home which is being repossessed due to her own debts and the financial failure of a housing development which is being built on the land by ruthless developer, Paul Krovik. Into this American-dream-turned-nightmare stumble Boston couple Nathaniel and Julia Noailles, who have taken advantage of Krovik's financial collapse to get themselves a large suburban house at a knock-down price. Their 7 year old son Copley is having trouble adjusting to the move, retreating into a fantasy world and communicating with his parents in a series of robotic grunts and movements. Little do they realise that their troubles are only just beginning.

I don't think it's explicitly stated but my impression was that the story is set in the very near future - America is still in the grip of the financial crisis but there's also a futuristic `Big Brother' feel to it, thanks in no small part to the sinister conglomerate Nathaniel works for, which seems to be taking over every aspect of the characters' lives, creating an almost post-apocolyptic/dystopian atmosphere in which they struggle to survive against the odds. It's a bleak story featuring some very damaged people, whose backstories are explored in such a way as to make them believable and (in most cases) empathetic, despite the extreme circumstances they face.

Fallen Land is not an easy read but I certainly found it an enthralling and very thought-provoking experience. Much as I enjoyed Absolution I did struggle a bit with the multiple narrators and timeframes. No such trouble here as the clear but interwoven storylines blend together beautifully and each is equally compelling. There's a quote from the New Yorker on the cover which states `Patrick Flanery is an exceptionally gifted novelist, and he is just getting started' - I wholeheartedly agree and am eagerly awaiting his next novel.


A Treacherous Likeness (Charles Maddox 3)
A Treacherous Likeness (Charles Maddox 3)
by Lynn Shepherd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark and romantic tale, 20 Aug 2013
This is the third of Lynn Shepherd's novels featuring Victorian `thief taker' Charles Maddox, in which she also reinvents famous stories and events from literary history. After her fictional reworkings of Mansfield Park and Bleak House, Shepherd now turns her attention to the real lives and loves of the Young Romantics, principally Percy Bysshe Shelley his wife Mary.

In Shepherd's version of events, Maddox is approached by Shelley's son Lord Percy and his wife Lady Jane, who are keen to ensure that certain documents relating to the late poet and his ailing wife Mary are kept hidden. During his investigations Maddox discovers a web of lies, treachery and deceit, some of which involves his beloved great uncle and mentor, Charles Maddox Snr who is currently suffering from a dementia-like illness.

With contributions from the writers themselves in the form of letters and memoirs, as well as Mary's enigmatic step-sister Claire Clairmont who was at the heart of the action as the lover of both Shelley and Byron, the tangled lives of these fascinating people are spun into an absorbing and compelling tale.

Brimming with Victorian character and atmosphere, this was my favourite of the three books. A Treacherous Likeness can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, however I would recommend reading the books in order (especially while they're currently such bargains on Kindle!) in order to follow the development of Maddox's personal and professional lives. Take care when you're buying them though; this novel is also being published under the title `A Fatal Likeness' and her previous one `Tom-All-Alones' was also published under the title `The Solitary House'.


TransAtlantic
TransAtlantic
Price: £1.54

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Transatlantic tales, 14 Aug 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: TransAtlantic (Kindle Edition)
This was my first Colum McCann novel and I was intrigued by the premise but have to admit I was disappointed when I realised it was a series of short stories. However, on closer inspection they're not actually `short stories' in the traditional sense, more a series of interlinked tales on the theme of journeys from Ireland to America, and back again, and I enjoyed them a lot.

We start in 1919 with Alcock and Brown making the first transatlantic non-stop flight, and then head back to 1845 when freed slave Frederick Douglass visited Ireland to meet some of the Quakers and others abolitionists who supported his cause. Then it's forward over 100 years to observe Senator George Mitchell during his negotiations to bring about for the Good Friday Agreement (indeed Ireland's troubles, of one sort or another, form the backdrop to several of the stories). In each chapter there are supporting characters - a Newfoundland journalist and her photographer daughter who are sent to cover Alcock & Brown's flight, an Irish maid in the house of Douglass's benefactor - who return later on to tell their own story and tie all the threads together.

Each absorbing and poignant tale deals with common themes such as escape from adversity, exploring new horizons and above all, hope. Despite their brevity, all managed to convey a sense of optimism as well as illustrating many different facets of two different but closely linked countries. If like me you're (a) new to this author and (b) not usually a fan of short stories, this is a great place to start.


Malarky
Malarky
by Anakana Schofield
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.23

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A woman on the edge, 7 Aug 2013
This review is from: Malarky (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
With recommendations on the cover from Emma Donoghue and Colum McCann, I was intrigued about Anakana Schofield's debut novel, and thankfully I wasn't disappointed.

Malarky is the story of Philhomena (aka `Our Woman') a downtrodden Irish farmer's wife whose life is fairly mundane until one day she observes her son Jimmy in a compromising position with another boy, and becomes obsessed with the dangers which Jimmy's life may hold and determined to hide her son's sexuality from his father, a taciturn, undemonstrative farmer (who also happens to be having an affair with a local woman, known to Our Woman as 'Red the Twit'). However, once Jimmy decides to join the army and serve in Afghanistan, his mother's love is no longer enough to protect him.

Anakana Schofield writes with a wonderfully ascerbic wit and an acute ear for dialogue and verbal tics. The book has a very whimsical feel at times; however don't be fooled by the blarney! This warm and witty novel also deals with darker subjects such as prejudice, bereavement and mental illness, thankfully without becoming maudlin or over-sentimental. There's a rich cast of supporting characters, including Our Woman's circle of friends (`the Gang') who aren't shy when it comes to offering advice, and her bereavement counsellor (aka `Grief') who she delights in winding up with ever more shocking pronouncements. Philhomena is a warm and compassionate creation and her love for her son, albeit misguided at times, really shines through - "I'll never stop worrying I told him. It's why I am here."

An eccentric, original and offbeat read which I'll be recommending to my friends.


Calling Me Home
Calling Me Home
by Julie Kibler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars "I acted hateful to Dorrie the first time we met....", 7 Aug 2013
This review is from: Calling Me Home (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Billed as The Help meets Driving Miss Daisy, Julie Kibler's debut novel `Calling Me Home' is one of the most hotly hyped books of the summer, and I'm happy to say that I think all the praise is well deserved.

This is the story of Isabelle, 90 years old when we meet her and anxious to attend the funeral of a significant person from her past. Unable to drive herself from Texas to Cincinnati, she ropes in her hairdresser Dorrie to chauffeur her to the funeral, and during long road trip Isabelle confides in Dorrie about her first love, a handsome, intelligent black boy who was the son of her family's maid. It's obvious that things did not end well for the young lovers, and as Isabelle relates her tale, a horrifying story of racism and retribution unfolds.

The trip takes place in the present day and although the situation is in theory totally different to how it was for Isabelle in 1939, there's still a tension and between the pair as they make the long journey together. Dorrie (who is black) is mistaken for Isabella's maid on more than one occasion, and although deep trust and respect do develop between them, Dorrie still observes "We were close, that's for sure .... but realistically, that little gap would always be between us, simply because we were different. We'd been conditioned that way."

The identity of the person whose funeral Isabelle is so keen to attend is kept under wraps until the final pages. Thankfully the twist, which could easily have steered the book in a melodramatic or maudlin direction, is sensitively handled and very moving.

In terms of the book's comparison to The Help, well yes they both feature shocking racism with black characters persecuted at the hands of ignorant white folk, but the storylines are very different and I'd say Calling Me Home has a darker tone and less humour, but is just as captivating.

With two very engaging and well-developed lead characters, this is a well-written, compassionate and ultimately uplifting story. I understand the film rights have been snapped up by Warner Bros and I look forward to seeing the results.


Kiss Me First
Kiss Me First
by Lottie Moggach
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and very unsettling, 5 Aug 2013
This review is from: Kiss Me First (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have to admit I was a little bit sceptical when I heard that Lottie Moggach (daughter of author Deborah) had released her first novel. However, the many positive reviews persuaded me to give it a go and within a couple of pages my scepticism was blown away and I was convinced that Lottie is a major talent in her own right.

Kiss Me First features Leila, a highly intelligent but socially inept young woman who has just emerged from a lonely adolescence spent caring for her disabled mother. To minimise her contact with the real world "to a point where I could effectively ignore its presence", she retreated into fantasy online world, firstly playing interactive games and, following her mother's death, becoming involved in a philosophy forum where like-minded libertarians debate ethical issues and moral dilemmas. It's through this site that she comes to the attention of its founder, the charming but sinister Adrian Dervish. Leila's sympathy with the view that people should have control over their own lives (including the manner of their death), and her background of fantasy role-play make her perfect candidate for his new project - a `service' to assist would-be suicides to disappear without causing too much distress to their friends and family.

Moggach has created a very credible protagonist in Leila. She's dismissed by one character as "A sad little creature. No family. No Friends"; traits she uses to her advantage in her new assignment which is to inhabit the online persona of Tess, a bipolar woman who has decided that she finally wants to `check out'. Leila needs to convince Tess's friends and family that she is alive and well and living a happy new life on the other side of the world. In order to do this she has to learn about every aspect of Tess's life - past jobs, boyfriends, A level results etc - and what follows is a fascinating exploration of just how much of our lives is lived online and in the public arena and how `virtual' relationships can become more important than real-life ones.

It's a dark and disturbing tale, particularly for anyone who uses the internet (ie the vast majority of the population), and also a very contemporary one which, in the current climate of cyberstalking and identity theft, makes for some very unsettling reading at times. It will be interesting to see how well it has `aged' in five years or so, but in the meantime I think this gripping and very accomplished novel will provide plenty of issues for book groups to discuss (particularly online ones!)


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