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This House is Haunted
This House is Haunted
by John Boyne
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly Atmospheric., 13 July 2014
This review is from: This House is Haunted (Paperback)
I BLAME CHARLES DICKENS FOR THE DEATH OF MY FATHER. What a great opening line to John Boyne's latest novel, a ghost stoty set in the 19th century. As with Eliza Eliza Caine, my parents instilled in me and my siblings a deep love of the novels of Charles Dickens so the opening line persuaded me to buy this book which is not my usual genre.

Briefly, the plot revolves around Eliza Caine, a governess who is obliged, due to her Father's untimely death, to accept an intriguing job offer at a place called Gaudline Hall in rural Norfolk. On arrival at the Hall she finds her charges, a brother and sister, alone and unsupervised.

It becomes immediately apparent that there are strange happenings afoot in Gaudline Hall but I will go no further into the story as I would not wish to divulge too much about the plot in deference to those who have yet to read this novel.

The story is beautifully written and contains all the elements necessary for a chilling tale i.e., a decaying old house, troubled children, sudden gusts of wind, ghostly noises - even to the taciturn man who meets Eliza at the station when she arrives in the middle of the night to take up her post. Boyne has created a wonderful narrator in Eliza Caine who shows resilience and strength of character throughout.

It may not be the most original story but it is nevertheless effective as Boyne succeeds in creating an atmosphere of tension and there is something absolutely wonderful and comforting about being tucked up in bed with a mug of hot chocolate feeling safe and sound while reading a ghost story that can make one jump from time to time.


The Temporary Gentleman
The Temporary Gentleman
by Sebastian Barry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.58

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When Jack met Mai., 10 July 2014
Quite a lot may be gleaned from the title of Sebastian Barry's latest novel i.e. The Temporary Gentleman as it is a pejorative term reserved for somebody who may be classed as a gentleman by virtue of rank for the duration of a war. The narrator of Barry's eighth novel is Jack McNulty, an Irishman from Sligo who enlisted as an engineer with the British during the second world war. While McNulty is somewhat proud of his stint with the British army he is aware that his compatriots would not share his sentiments.

The novel opens with a ship being torpedoed off the African coast during the Second World War; Jack is standing on the deck drinking from a bottle of Scotch.

We then come across McNulty in 1957 in Accra where he is writing his memoirs and being waited on by his "Man Friday" Tom Quaye. Jack's life has been marred by very heavy drinking. He met his future wife, Mai, in 1922 in Galway; she was a trainee teacher and he an engineering student. While Mai is portrayed as unique and beautiful and a dedicated supporter of Michael Collins, she is also fragile and she too turns to drink but in an even more self-destructive fashion than Jack whose own drinking came before his wife and young children. Later on in the book it emerges that before boarding the ship, which is subsequently torpodoed in the opening scenes of the book, Jack had been on leave and even though his wife in Sligo was very eager to see him, he chose to go to the races in Nottingham rather than see his family.

Through Jack's memoirs we follow Jack and Mai's lives as they unfold from the early days of their meeting. We see them travel to the Gold Coast only to return when Mai becomes pregnant with her first child.

Of course the reader is very much aware that Mcnulty may not be the most faithful of narrators and indeed, Barry manages quite skillfully to convey a certain evasiveness in Jack who seems to skim over some episodes in his life and this is enough to cast doubt on some of the events as he recounts them.

This is not the first outing for the Mcnulty clan as the family also featured in The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty and The Secret Scripture.

This is a beautifully written book and while some of the characterisation may tend to the stereotypical, Barry has, in Jack McNulty, created an interesting, very intelligent yet ultimately flawed man. The prose is rich yet concise; The Temporary Gentleman is an intriguing story, ostensibly about war, the aftermath of war and the effects of alcoholism on relationships and families but it is also about love albeit selfish, yet nevertheless enduring, love.

This novel is heartbreaking and perhaps there is a certain lack of historical certainty but, in my view, it is well worth the effort.

The Woman Upstairs
The Woman Upstairs
by Claire Messud
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Furies., 11 Jun. 2014
This review is from: The Woman Upstairs (Paperback)
"How angry am I? You don't want to know. Nobody wants to know about that." The opening of this novel grabs one by the throat as it is, of course, meant to do. The narrator is Nora Eldridge, a 42 year-old single lady who has until recently, been a teacher at Appleton Elementary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We learn that Nora's mother's nickname for her daughter was "Mouse" hardly conducive to confidence building in a young person.

The major part of Nora's story takes place 5 years earlier when she is still employed as a teacher although she had harboured dreams of becoming a famous artist. She lives alone and is an attentive daughter to her elderly father, a widower. Her life is mundane and she is not very happy.

Then she meets the Shahid family when their son Reza, a beautiful boy, joins her class. The family previously lived in Paris and Nora is completely enthralled by, not just Reza, but the entire family. She Is fascinated by the mother Serina who is an artist and appears to have achieved what Nora herself has failed to accomplish; she comes to believe that the father, Skandar is her ideal man.

When Serina and Nora rent a studio together to produce their respective works of art, Nora's obsession with the family grows. While Serina works on a magnum opus entitled Wonderland Nora starts to create a series of dioramas and perhaps one is meant to infer that Nora sees her own life as a miniature.

I never felt that Nora was the most trustworthy of narrators and while she is very angry at the beginning of the book and goes into many reasons for her anger, we do not learn the real reasons for this anger until towards the end of the novel.

This is certainly a well written novel and Messud weaves a tale that held my interest. I appreciated the use the "Lucy Jordan" moment as a reference to all those women who hit a bit of a wall when they realize that their dreams and all the things they hoped to achieve will probably never now happen.

Yet reading this novel was not unadulterated joy as quite frankly, I found it a bit of a chore wading through parts of the book which seemed to pall at times, particularly since I could not warm to Nora at all. She managed to come across as extremely self-regarding most of the time and quite pathetic throughout the story displaying not a shred of joie de vivre. Long before she suffered the betrayal which led to her all consuming anger, she was very displeased with life in general. Neither did I find any of the other main characters particularly appealing, which rather reduced my overall enjoyment of the book. Yet I admit I have found certain books rivetting even when peopled with the most loathsome characters so there are other reasons for my failing to be swept away by this nicely written novel as The Woman Upstairs failed to fully engage me.

The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair
The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair
by JoŽl Dicker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Much-Hyped Twister., 10 Jun. 2014
This is a cleverly constructed thriller written in French by Swiss author Joel Dicker and benefits from a first-rate translation. It has been hugely successful, has been translated into 32 languages, and in France has won several literary prizes and Ron Howard has bought the movie rights! So given all the hype surrounding this novel I suppose I expected a lot more than the book actually delivered.

The story is set in New Hampshire and revolves around a murder investigation which has been reopened following the discovery of the body of a 15 year-old girl, Nola, in the eponymous Harry Quebert's back garden. Nola had disappeared 33 years earlier and her abductor had never been found. Quebert is a well liked and much admired novelist, now in his sixties, and famous for writing one book i.e., The Origin of Evil. With the discovery of the body Harry Quebert is arrested much to shock of the locals. Also buried with the body is a manuscript of Quebert's famous novel.

Marcus Goldman is a former student of Quebert's and is in the throes of writer's block - also having written a massively successful first novel at a young age.Goldman becomes obsessed with solving the 33 year-old mystery and the results of his investigation form the basis of his second novel.

This is a very ambitious tome comprising over 600 pages, and deals with all the usual suspects i.e., murder and madness, religious zealotry and intolerence, love and love of writing. It deals with guilt and secrets that can haunt a person for life. It comprises two books (at least) and is really a book within a book - a rather clever premise which Dicker manages to pull off while continuing to hold the reader's interest. Dicker also lampoons the publishing industry - the publishers, agents, lawyers, even the writers themselves.

The plotting is meticulous and fiendishly clever and nothing and nobody is quite what they seem; as the story unfolds, it transpires that even the victim had a darker side. The tale has more twists and turns than other novels I have come across and that is saying something! The last couple of chapters hurtle along at an alarming rate.

I enjoyed this book but it was definitely too long even though it didn't weigh too heavily on me while I was reading it. A more trenchant criticism is that there were just too many suspects as almost every character was, at one point or another, the prime suspect.

Notwithstanding, I would recommend this book to lovers of a literary mystery as the writing is taut, some of the dialogue just so cartoon-like that it's worth relishing and even the more nonsensical plot twists are enjoyable.

I know this has no relevance to the story's merits or demerits but I love Edward Hopper so I even found the cover of the novel appealing.

Shetland - Series 1-2 [DVD] [2013]
Shetland - Series 1-2 [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Douglas Henshall
Price: £9.00

105 of 108 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Backdrop., 23 April 2014
Shetland is based on the Ann Cleeves novels featuring the detective Jimmy Perez and I feel they have translated to the small screen just as successfully as Cleeves' female detective Vera Stanhope in the series Vera.

Shetland returns for a second series in the form of three two-part stories and comprises the episodes:-

Raven Black: When the body of a teenage girl is found on a deserted beach D.I. Jimmy Perez leads the investigation into her murder and it seems the case may be linked to the unsolved disappearance of a young girl nineteen years earlier.

Dead Water: A journalist is killed in a road accident and it emerges he was an old pal of Perez. As the investigation progresses it seems the victim Jerry's, return to Shetland was connected to plans for a controversial new gas pipeline.

Blue Lightening: This double episode has shades of Agatha's Christie's "And Then There Were None" as when a scientist is discovered murdered in a bird sanctuary on Fair Isle and Perez returns to his childhood home to investigate a storm forces Perez and the suspects to remain enclosed under the same roof.

The stories are well crafted and interesting with a credible number of potential suspects, the acting is of a high quality and the regular cast has been well-chosen; also the series has attracted some fine guest stars including the wonderful Brian Cox in the opening episode. The rugged Shetland landscape with its long stretches of beach, cliffs and hillsides forms a wonderful backdrop for these murder mysteries. In fact, one of the things I appreciate most about Shetland is Shetland itself which at times has an almost Nordic bleakness and at other times we see the Island in summer sunshine; the long, long summer nights often give rise to insomnia.

A captivating and beautiful setting which adds to the series' allure.

I would have no hesitation in recommending this series to viewers in general but in particular to fans of the genre.

The Fifth Child (Paladin Books)
The Fifth Child (Paladin Books)
by Doris Lessing
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Social Stigma., 17 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Harriet and David Lovatt meet and fall in love during the sexual revolution that took place in the 1960s but far from subscribing to the sexual mores of their generation they are conservative and espouse traditional family values. Their dream is to buy a large house in the countryside and have lots of children. They get married and promptly set about achieving their goal purchasing the large country house courtesy of David's Dad who provides the necessary finance. Having had four children in quick succession, Harriet is beginning to suffer the stress and strain of rearing four children with the added complication of money worries. There is also the fact that her parents and in-laws do not approve of her having so many children and especially having them so close together. Therefore Harriet is naturally dismayed to discover she is pregnant with her fifth child and when the pregnancy becomes increasingly painful and the growing baby unnaturally active, she is at the end of her tether and by the time the baby arrives she is convinced he/she will not be "normal".

Baby Ben is an extremely large and unprepossessing infant being very hairy and having a neanderthal appearance. From birth he is difficult and seems to respond only to his own basic needs and fails to respond to others. As he grows things deteriorate even further and Ben becomes a danger, both emotionally and even physically, to his siblings which in turn places a huge strain on Harriet and David's marriage and forces them to take steps. There are several developments in this novel which I will not go into as it is best left to the reader to make their own journey.

This is a compelling and disturbing story and raises many questions, not least how society views and treats disability. Harriet never managed to find the support she so badly needed form the medical establishment; in fact, nobody who had contact with Ben i.e. doctors, teachers, family would admit that there was anything really wrong with him - apart from Harriet's mother who helped to rear him. One part of the book is particularly difficult and depressing and that is when Ben is placed in an institution.

Another thing that struck me as I read this book is that since Ben's condition is never diagnosed or explained I felt at times he was a figure from science fiction. Yet the thread of a neanderthal runs through the narrative. There is also the chicken-and-egg aspect i.e. since Harriet was so appalled at being pregnant with Ben perhaps this was communicated in some way to the baby growing in her womb; this question also reared its head in Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk about Kevin.

Disturbing this book may be but Doris Lessing is a gifted writer and the story held my undivided attention right to the final page.

The Killing 3
The Killing 3
by David Hewson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hewson Makes a Killing!, 4 April 2014
This review is from: The Killing 3 (Hardcover)
When I read that David Hewson had written a novel based on the Danish TV series, The Killing, and despite Hewson being an established and respected writer of detective crime fiction (set in Italy) I was still reluctant to purchase the book. However, thanks to excellent reviews in the media and recommendations from book stores I decided to invest. It is unusual for a book to be based on a TV series but Hewson has risen to the challenge with remarkable skill and having thoroughly enjoyed both The Killing 1 and 2 I had no hesitation in buying Hewson's adaption of the third and final part of the Danish series.

This novel is once again a tour de force for David Hewson and while the atmosphere of the series is masterfully reproduced and the plot is almost identical, Hewson himself has said that the adaptations are works of fiction in their own right and consequently, The Killing 3 is a fascinating story and a stand alone novel. If you have seen The Killing 3 on television then you can expect quite a few surprises and a completely different ending.

To paraphrase the plot, Sarah Lund is contacted by her ex-lover, Mathias Borch, now working with National Intelligence who fears that what was first considered a random killing on the docks could quite well turn out to be the precursor of an assassination attempt on the Prime minister, Troels Hartmann. A shipping and oil company, Zeeland , owned by billionaire Robert Zeuthen becomes the focus of attention.

When Zeuthen's 9 year-old daughter is kidnapped the investigation takes on a new complexion as it soon becomes clear that her abduction is linked to the murder of a young girl in Jutland some years earlier.This case is very reminiscent of The Killing 1 and equally absorbing; as always, the writing is concise and clear and the dialogue true, insofar as possible, to the TV series.

Of course this novel is so much more than a thrilling crime story as it deals with the world of politics, big business and press machinations. Troels Hartmann is in the middle of a closely-fought and tough-tactics election campaign.

Lund's personal life is as intriguing, complicated and as angst-ridden as ever and that Hewson succeeds in translating Lund's character as perceived on television to a novel is a feat of masterly proportions.

I was hooked from the first page and would highly recommend this book to readers in general and to fans of the genre in particular.

The Sound of Broken Glass (Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels (Paperback))
The Sound of Broken Glass (Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James Novels (Paperback))
by Deborah Crombie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unbroken Record., 10 Mar. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is the fifteenth outing for married police detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James and while Duncan has taken leave to look after their foster daughter Charlotte, Gemma and Detective Sergeant Melanie Talbot investigate the rather sordid murder of a barrister. Initially, the killing looks like a blind date or a pickup which went seriously wrong. However, when a second barrister is killed in similar circumstances, the whole affair takes on a more sinister complexion.

Deborah Crombie weaves a murder from the past with the present-day killings in a skillful manner and as always the unfolding domestic lives of Kincaid and James form a perfect backdrop to the tale. The action is set in the Crystal Palace area of London and as is the norm with Ms. Crombie she provides an interesting perspective by furnishing some historical titbits on the area and on the Crystal Palace itself which was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Deborah Crombie is an american author whose Kincaid and James' novels are set in England and while she has the odd lapse, I feel she manages to be more convincing than many other writers attempting the same feat. I must confess that I have a particular penchant for this series and The Sound of Broken Glass is a well-crafted novel which should hold the reader's interest to the last page; it is peopled with interesting and quite well-drawn characters and, all-in-all the novel has all the elements for an enthralling read.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2014 9:56 AM GMT

Big Brother
Big Brother
by Lionel Shriver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weighty Issue., 7 Mar. 2014
This review is from: Big Brother (Paperback)
Lionel Shriver is perhaps best known for her novel We need to Talk about Kevin which tells the story of a school massacre told through the eyes of the perpetrator's mother. It was a phenomenal success and divided opinion. If, in the unlikely event you haven't yet done so, it is certainly worth reading now.

In Big Brother, Shriver tackles the controversial question of obesity, especially in American society. The story is narrated by Pandora, a middle-aged woman living with her husband Fletcher Feuerbach and stepchildren Tanner and Cody. She has always looked up to her big brother Edison, a jazz musician, who left home at a relatively early age. Out of the blue Edison announces he is coming for a visit having been virtually out of touch for several years. When Pandora collects him at the airport she is appalled at just how obese her brother has become. She herself is overweight (although nothing on the scale of Edison's obesity) while her husband has, himself, an uneasy relationship with food, practically living on brown rice and broccoli; in addition he is addicted to exercise in the form of cycling.- and is quite superior in his attitude to his wife and brother-in-law.

With the arrival of Edison, the atmosphere becomes increasingly fraught in the Feuerbach household and when Fletcher presents Pandora with an ultimatum - him or her brother, she chooses Edison and they move out and into an apartment together where Pandora becomes her brother's diet guru! And so the battle begins... There are a lot more facets to this story, including Edison and Pandora's upbringing.

Despite none of the characters being particularly engaging, I still enjoyed the book since Shriver, as is usual with her, does not shirk from criticism of obesity and gives an interesting perspective to this ever-growing (no pun intended) problem. She also draws a comparison between obesity and weight problems in general and social status. She makes a good fist of shattering the myth that when hugely overweight people lose massive amounts of weight they immediately become happy and well-adjusted human beings. I considered this aspect of the issue interesting and very convincingly handled.

I find Shriver's writing style appealing and easy to assimilate but thought this book lacked a deeper narrative as the reasons for Edison's obesity are never explored in any real sense. I would still, however, advise readers that this is a novel worth reading.

Looking for JJ
Looking for JJ
by Anne Cassidy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult Subject Nicely Handled., 27 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Looking for JJ (Paperback)
"Three children walked away from the edge of town one day - but only two of them came back..." As an opening to the blurb this sentence captures the would-be readers attention.

The British press is looking for Jennifer Jones since news of the child killer's release has been announced although, in fact Jennifer had been released six months prior to the announcement. Alice Tully is apparently a normal sixteen year-old but along with all the usual teenage problems, Jennifer has a terrible dark secret hidden in her past; a crime so horrendous she must keep hidden at all costs; Alice Tully is Jennifer Jones.

Anne Cassidy writes with a fluidity that enables her to switch back and forth between Jennifer's life before her crime and to her life as Alice in the present. She treats a chilling and frightening subject i.e., what leads one child to kill another, with empathy and restraint. The reader has the advantage of seeing things through Jennifer's eyes and getting to know the girl and her home circumstances prior to the crime she commits. It is also to Cassidy's credit that she did not dwell overly on the actual murder or make the crime incredibly violent or cruel. There was one subtle twist that aggravated the victim's (Michelle) death and would make her loss even harder for her parents to bear, if that were indeed possible; this factor would also augment Jennifer's guilt.

The author also creates characters that are, for the most part, likeable and for whom the reader may come to care. Given the subject matter this is quite a feat.

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