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Algernon Flowers (Cotswolds, UK)

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A Horse in the Bathroom: How an Old Stable Became Our Dream Village Home
A Horse in the Bathroom: How an Old Stable Became Our Dream Village Home
by Derek J. Taylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Three men on a Horse?, 5 Sep 2012
This is an amusing tale of the author's time spent converting an old Cotswold stable into a home. At least, that's what you might think by reading the Blurb.
In fact, it's much more than that. During the mammoth and occasionally regretted task that the author and his partner, Maggie, take on, in converting a block of old stables down Back Walls in Stow-0n-the-Wold into a the perfect home, Derek does a Bill Bryson job on a wide range of country matters. He wonders just what makes a village tick and asks this question of Blockley, Bledington, Aston Magna, Swinbrook, Stow, of course, and many more. For some strange reason he fails to mention Bourton but does investigate the oddly named Packingham-in-Stayle instead. I wonder how much they paid him to leave them alone!
He braves the Gypsy fair and town planning departments with equal courage and has interesting opinions on both. Along the way, he makes many a pointed remark about country people and their villages but does so with such wit and good humour, that I'm sure nobody will be offended. However, you might like to see if you get a mention! Or perhaps someone you know.
Yes, there's lots here about oak beams and officialdom but the book is consistently interesting on a wide range of subjects, and it's very well written, witty and often `Three Men in a Boat' kind of funny, that is, very funny indeed.

Settling the Score
Settling the Score
by Peter Gibbs
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class match, first class book, 17 Aug 2012
This review is from: Settling the Score (Paperback)
There may be some older cricket fans reading this who remember a little gem of a play on television called Arthur's Hallowed Ground. Written by ex-Derbyshire cricketer, Peter Gibbs, it starred Jimmy Jewell as Arthur, the groundsman whose life's work is spent maintaining the perfect pitch on which to play cricket and then hating it when cricketers turn up to play on it, ruining his creation.

In Settling the Score, Peter gives us a similar character though only in a minor role. Here it is the three day game between an imaginary Derbyshire team and the home team, Warwickshire, which takes centre stage on the placid Edgbaston ground. That and the rivalry between two brothers vying for a place in the England team. Not so placid however, are the antics of the members of the team after each day's play. Set in the late 60s, when an evening at a strip club or drinking to the early hours was more common for professional players than perhaps it is now, there are fights and disclosures that play a major part on the field of play.

Peter pours all his knowledge of the game into this rare work (for there are few pieces of fiction in the cricket world) and the result is an engrossing novel based on a nail biting cricket match, determined by the off field events and revelations as much as the action on the field itself. The plot seamlessly joins the events on field and off and those who have played the game will recognise the truth of it. Those who follow the game may also recognise many of the characters (despite the usual disclaimer). Both will enjoy the vivid description of the play, the comical banter and the sometimes bitter rivalry.

If there seem to be the odd cliche here, it is because Heaven's only sport is made up of them. Impossible catches follow farcical run-outs, bad balls take wickets, good ones clear the ropes and a three day match boils down to the last half hour, the last over, the last ball. That's what makes cricket such a wonderful game and what makes Settling the Score such a wonderful book.

With the tension of a great Test Match, this is a first class read which every cricket lover should own. I for one, cannot wait for the return match.

The Mystery of Wickworth Manor
The Mystery of Wickworth Manor
by Elen Caldecott
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.49

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than just the Famous Two, 11 July 2012
When Paige Owens, on first arriving for a week at Wickworth Manor with her friends, first meets a rather unhappy lonely boy, Curtis Okafor, she thinks him too posh and serious for her. However, soon the pair become friends and find themselves on the trail of a ghost, secret tunnels and hidden treasure. If it sounds too Blytonesque, it has some fresh ideas on display. It deals with bullying and unusual friendships and racism in a subtle way and the writing makes all the characters come alive. It would be nice to think that Paige and Curtis have more than one outing together. A good, funny adventure story, for youngsters, with a generous helping of thoughtful realism.

Thyme Running Out (Tartan of Thyme)
Thyme Running Out (Tartan of Thyme)
by Panama Oxridge
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind-blowing sequel to Justin Thyme, 1 Jun 2012
Thyme Running Out
Panama Oxridge pb 6.99

I have been wanting to write a review of Thyme Running Out ever since I first read the hardback late last year. Now that the paperback is out, I really must get down to it. There's a problem though. I can type a string of totally honest complimentary adjectives which will not help make up a reader's mind if I don't relate them to the plot. The plot, you see, is the problem. It's almost impossible to mention any of the events in this book without giving something away. There are so many shocks and surprises that must remain secret that I daren't mention any of them. Well, perhaps a few, eh?
The book starts slowly and amusingly with Justin using his Thyme Machine to investigate the extinction of the Dodo, only to find that a baby one has hitchhiked back with him to the present. The dodo becomes an addition to the strange pets in the castle; Eliza the computer literate gorilla, Burbage, the Shakespeare quoting parrot and the eight legged cat, Tybalt.
There are also new staff members, Peregrine Knightly, the drippy nosed butler and Evelyn Garnet, the ruthless replacement nanny (for Nanny Verity is still missing). Either could be planning to steal the Thyme Machine. The action soon starts to rush along with discoveries about Mrs Kof and the new Nanny being only minor news compare with some of the most amazing revelations that ace detective Justin discloses in a Poirot scene that will have you gasping, chortling and scratching your head, all at the same time. And I haven't even mentioned the big surprise which locked up my brain for several seconds. I simple could not believe the trick that the author had played on me. If you thought Justin Thyme was tricksy, just you wait till you read Thyme Running Out. There is one sentence in the book that virtually demanded that I had to read Justin Thyme all over again.
It's ingenious and complex enough to challenge even Sherlock Holmes (and he does get a faint mention). It's amazing. It's funny. It's gripping. It's even moving. Finally, though it's difficult to believe that it could be better than Justin Thyme, it is!

The Gods of Gotham (Gods of Gotham 1)
The Gods of Gotham (Gods of Gotham 1)
by Lyndsay Faye
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wilde about New York, 25 April 2012
Gods of Gotham This atmospheric fictional tale set at the very beginnings of what we now know as the NYPD has everything. A touching love affair with a very surprising twist, characters that are all larger than life but entirely believable, an admirable hero who has a nice line in commentary, and a dark body-littered plot. With all that it boasts true originality, even the slang language that the reader learns as he reads is unlikely to be found elsewhere.
So, Alfie, what's it all about?
It is a New York, full of corruption, prostitution, drunkenness and of the poorest of Irish immigrants where barman, Timothy Wilde, is caught up in a terrible fire and scarred for life. He has lost his looks and his savings in the fire and, in doing so, also loses all hope of marrying Mercy Underhill, the Reverend's daughter. Mercy does her rounds giving charity to the desperate poor, even to the house of child prostitutes run by Silkie Marsh, unsurprisingly amid such corruption, a woman of power.
It is Timothy's hated brother Valentine who drums him into the newly forming `Police Force' and he finds his natural place in the world. A place where he can lick his wounds and find a use for himself. His qualities are soon required when he finds a young blood-soaked girl escaping from Silkie and a young boy's body is discovered, suffering horrific wounds. Timothy takes time to piece all the clues together but there are enough of them when a veritable graveyard of little bodies are discovered. Shock after shock is revealed before Timothy cracks the case and fences are mended, others broken in a very surprising way.
Timothy is a brilliant creation whose humour and wit are sprinkled about generously and his decidedly bigger brother, though having a very different philosophy, is also memorable. Indeed, there are a dozen characters that stay in the mind, long after the book is put down. Timothy even has his own `Baker Street Irregulars'! The plot, too, is original but it is perhaps, New York which is the brightest star. A very different New York to that of today but, I'm sure, every bit as real, with all its humour and its horrors.
A debut novel of great richness and deserving of great success.

The Very Picture of You
The Very Picture of You
by Isabel Wolff
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A brush with romance, 5 Oct 2011
Though this is normally the sort of book I'd not pick up, when I received it as a proof, I decided to give it a go. I'll confess that I quite enjoyed it.
Young, very single, Ella, is a portrait artist who has painted many famous figures and commands a large fee. However, it is a portrait for her sister that causes her the biggest problem. The two main themes are this painting (of her sister's future husband) and the unexpected and unwanted contact with her father who apparently deserted the family when Ella was still a child.
Though the central love story was given away by the blurb (don't do that people!) and the truth about Ella's missing father was rather telegraphed, it was the atmosphere of the portrait sessions that made this book enjoyable for me. The painting sessions and the conversations between sitters and artist seemed very real and I suspect that the author paints or spent many hours observing an artist at work.
A light, enjoyable, if predictable romance with a little more about it than some.

Dark Matter
Dark Matter
by Michelle Paver
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ghost IS the hunter, 5 Oct 2011
This review is from: Dark Matter (Paperback)
Michelle Paver's 'Chronicles of Ancient Darkness' was a huge hit with our younger readers right from the first book, Wolf Brother. The quality of the series was confirmed when she won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize with the sixth in the series, Ghost Hunter.
When poverty forces Jack, a rather insular young man, to volunteer as one member of a three man team at an isolated weather station in the Arctic, he believes his main problem may be how to rub along with the other two who are of a different class and lifelong friends. However, it soon becomes apparent that there is another presence out there in the long northern night. When, because of an accident to one of his companions, he is left on his own, his nightmare begins and unlike Ghost Hunter, here it's not the ghost who is hunted, but Jack.
Told in diary form, this adult ghost story uses many tricks of the trade but uses them well. It has echoes of The Woman in Black in its claustrophobic isolation, but no harm there. It is its own story and expertly told by this author who knows the Arctic well.

Instruments of Darkness
Instruments of Darkness
by Imogen Robertson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dickens/Austen mix but totally original, 5 Oct 2011
Sir Hugh, second son of the Earl of Sussex, is not long returned from fighting in the American War of Independence, when a body is discovered on his land by his neighbour, the outspoken sea captain's wife, Harriet Westerman. The reclusive Gabriel Crowther, an anatomist with an eye for detail, is soon dragged along by her into investigating the murder. It is obvious that there is a connection to the Earl for the murdered man has, on his person, a ring showing the Thornleigh arms but it is when a second murder occurs that suspicion falls on Hugh himself. Meanwhile, in a parallel story, the heir to the estate, who has married for love and has disowned his family, is also murdered in his London house. The bodies pile up and Harriet herself is also threatened. The already dizzy pace quickens through the riotous streets of London and more dramatic deaths to a grand finale in the blazing ruin of the great house.
This has a complex and dramatic Dickensian plot, wit borrowed from Austen, a dark love affair out of `The Turn of the Screw' and a Bronte like ending yet it is fresh and inventive throughout. The mystery is a genuine one, the relationship between the outspoken Harriet and the rather dry Crowther is always entertaining and is often very funny. The characters are vividly described and more than one could have been an escapee from Copperfield or Bleak House (the author even uses a character's name from Nicholas Nickleby) The contrasting settings of country houses and grand manners with the rabble in the streets of London during anti Catholic riots are both perfectly described, the one all manners and wit, the other foolishness and fear. In short, I was happy to receive this book from Impogen, and even happier to read it.
A thoroughly entertaining piece of work with two of the most interesting `detectives' in fiction. I look forward to reading the next in the series, Anatomy of Murder.
Thank you Imogen!

by Jane Sanderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.99

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Upstairs, downstairs and underground, 29 Sep 2011
This review is from: Netherwood (Paperback)
This, the first in a new series, is a tale of two very different Yorkshire families a century ago, one headed by a miner, the other by Lord Hoyland, the mine owner.
Young, beautiful, Eve Williams, her devoted husband Arthur and their little family all spring to life from this book's earliest pages. Indeed, even the minor characters are solid, believable, well defined and great fun to meet.
Arthur works in Lord Hoyland's mines and earns little for long hours and dangerous work. The atmosphere of day-to-day living and survival for even these comparatively well treated families is made clear and hardship and hunger are always close by.
When Eve is widowed and faces ruin she finds that her skills as a baker are her salvation and, with a friend to help and encourage her, she soon finds her business catches the eye of more than just friends and neighbours.
Though Eve holds centre-stage with her friends and family, Lord Hoyland and his also star and both strands of the plot are told equally well. There seems little to challenge Eve's rise ever upward to success and new love so this is a happy read, though not all those around her wish her well.
Light romance? Saga? Whatever. This should not really have been my cup of tea. However, it was, and good, Yorkshire tea at that.
This is a perfect read for Downton Abbey fans (and a great number of other folk, too) and I honestly look forward to knowing what happens next.

We Can be Heroes
We Can be Heroes
by Catherine Bruton
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heroic misunderstanding, 14 Aug 2011
This review is from: We Can be Heroes (Paperback)
Our storyteller is young Ben who sees life in cartoons and who misses his father, killed on 9/11, and his mother, who is `ill'. He is joined in their grandparent's house by cousin Jed, separated from his mother by his manipulating father. Across the road, an Asian girl with a vivid imagination lives with her family. The three children meet and via honour killings and bomb plots are finally embroiled in the kidnap of a little girl.
It sounds like a thriller, however, though gripping throughout, it's a perfectly crafted comedy. The brilliance at it's heart being the perfect voices the author gives to her unfortunate and sometimes dysfunctional children as they deal with heartache, bullying, racism and fear. An adult/children crossover classic.

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