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S. Robinson "Read more at Amazon's S.C.Skillman Page" (Warwick, UK)
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Deception in the Cotswolds (Cotswold Mysteries 09)
Deception in the Cotswolds (Cotswold Mysteries 09)
by Rebecca Tope
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a reflective, thoughtful novel, gentle and persuasive, 9 Jan. 2014
This is the first novel of Rebecca Tope's that I've read. As someone who loves the Cotswolds, and visit it regularly, I found the story and the Cotswolds descriptions very enjoyable, and thought the author knows this area extremely well. I was a little baffled by the main character's full-time occupation - house-sitter in gracious Cotswolds properties - and wish I'd known such an occupation exists because it seems highly desirable! I liked Thea but found some of the other characters unpleasant. I was surprised at the assertion that Thea likes Jemima; this didn't make sense to me, for Jemima's behaviour throughout the novel is consistently rude, aggressive and offensive. However the story and some of its other characters gave me extra insights into the kind of people who may live in gracious properties in the Cotswolds!

I was intrigued by the way the author developed her theme of issues around the dying process and assisted suicide. I have researched the subject of natural burial grounds in the past, as well as our society's attitude to death and the dying process, and felt that Rebecca Tope's deliberations upon this subject, through Thea, were very sensitive and astute.

All in all, a reflective, thoughtful novel, gentle and persuasive.


Tether's End
Tether's End
by William Conelly
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.75

5.0 out of 5 stars touching, poetic and beautiful, 4 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Tether's End (Paperback)
This story is a skilled and graceful evocation of a 9 year old boy's experience of a summer spent with his uncle in his lakeside home in Maine, USA. Martin's observations of the adult behaviour around him are perfectly drawn. The sense of place is exquisite; I felt I was there at Swensons Pond, as Conelly captures the tranquility of the environment, which is shattered by the complexities of the human beings who occupy it. The many American phrases and figure of speech may at first sound strange to English ears. But for me, they created a sense of defamiliarisation and displacement, and beguiled me with their unexpectedness. Initially the novel has a slow, dreamy pace, and the plot seems very thin; for this reason, I was at first going to give this book only 4 stars. But upon finishing it I changed my mind, because I recognised the truthfulness and clarity of the child's view of the world. The atmosphere of the novel haunted me after I'd finished reading it; I regard this as one of the tests of a first class writer.


An Angel Called Mervin: The Christian Story Through Celestial Eyes
An Angel Called Mervin: The Christian Story Through Celestial Eyes
by Jennifer Rees Larcombe
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars initially promising but tending to over-simplify and trivialize, 17 Dec. 2013
Initially I was very impressed with "An Angel Called Mervin", but having finished, I have mixed feelings about it. I found the cover and title a bit deceptive; they give the impression of a comic, cartoon-like feel to the book. In fact the narrative, through the device of a lecture by the principal training angel to all the newly created angels, gives a view of all the events in the bible, relating to Jesus, from a heavenly perspective. In other words, the story from the angels' viewpoint.

And in many ways, this is enlightening, moving and revealing. Several bible stories which have often seemed bizarre or perplexing, were opened out to me, and made sense for the first time. There were some wonderful images - the idea of invisible armies of angels, wings outstretched, waiting to save Jesus from the cross, and being held back by "the Mighty One" though they longed to intervene.

Later on I wasn't so happy with the way the final biblical prophecies are handled. There has been so much controversy over the centuries about interpretation of these prophecies. My problem may lie with the way this material is handled.

So,in some ways I enjoyed and valued "An Angel Called Mervin", in other ways I found the style of presentation tended to over-simplify and even trivialize.

But if you are interested in angels, try it!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 24, 2015 1:35 PM BST


The Ghost Hunters
The Ghost Hunters
by Neil Spring
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kept me up reading late into the night, 12 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: The Ghost Hunters (Paperback)
This novel had an immediate appeal for me because I spent a couple of years exploring spiritualism during the 1970's, and have long enjoyed tales of the supernatural. The names Harry Price and Borley Rectory are famous to anyone interested in paranormal investigation, and therefore, in one sense, The Ghost Hunters will attract a ready-made audience. However, even without this built-in advantage, Neil Spring's narrative is so captivating on its own terms that it kept me up reading late into the night (not to be recommended with a subject of this type!) In fact I dreamed of a dark, brooding edifice which later the next morning I realised was of course Borley Rectory. This novel is most compelling on a psychological level; and a very impressive debut.


The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

5.0 out of 5 stars sensitive, profound and beautifully written novel, 11 Oct. 2013
Having seen Rachel Joyce at the recent Warwick Words Festival I bought two of her books: "Harold Fry" and her follow-up, "Perfect".

As I read Harold Fry I felt that I was walking with him along the road. In fact I identified with him so much I felt I should do something similar, just leave everything and walk 627 miles through England along the lanes and B roads, taking nothing with me! (it would of course be ideal to do it in springtime, as Harold does). The exploration of Harold's past and that of his wife Maureen and their lives so far, through their memories and sorrows and regrets, is very delicate and sensitive, and deeply moving. In addition, Rachel Joyce's observations of the English countryside are exquisite; and her reflections upon life through the people Harold meets have great wisdom in them.

My only complaint may be the shocks delivered at the end - well,two shocks, really, butI won't reveal them and be guilty of plot-spoilers.

This is a sensitive, profound and beautifully written novel. I shall now start reading Rachel Joyce's next novel "Perfect".


Bring Up the Bodies
Bring Up the Bodies
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars compelling narrative, poetic, elegant & stylish, 6 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Bring Up the Bodies (Paperback)
When it comes to people making momentous decisions on the basis of throwaway remarks, idle boasts, gossip and loose talk, the Tudors gave us a masterclass. But there again, for good or bad, isn't this in some measure the story of our own lives, though we may never know how momentous any of our decisions may be? Perhaps that's part of the reason why we are so fascinated by the Tudors.

In language sometimes poetic, elegant and stylish and at other times crude, ribald and cruel, to match her subject matter, Hilary Mantel continues to chart Thomas Cromwell's course through the treacherous marshes of Henry VIII's bizarre emotional and mental life, to the downfall and execution of Anne Boleyn.

Whilst reading Mantel's compelling narrative, I felt, as with "Wolf Hall", that I was as close as we can ever possibly be to how the experience may have been for "Master Secretary" Cromwell himself. So much so that I wondered that Cromwell didn't have to take time off work with stress, working for a boss like Henry, manipulative and unstable. In such an environment, the news that you've finally got your own final appointment at the Tower must almost come as a blessed relief.

I look forward to being guided through Cromwell's journey to that final appointment in the next novel in Hilary Mantel's Tudor trilogy.


Crowdie And Cream And Other Stories: Memoirs of a Hebridean Childhood
Crowdie And Cream And Other Stories: Memoirs of a Hebridean Childhood
by Finlay J. Macdonald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars touching, poetic, colourful and richly comic - the memoirs of a gifted raconteur, 25 Sept. 2013
I've had these 3 memoirs on my shelf for 8 years: 'Crowdie and Cream', 'Crotal and White' and 'The Corncrake and the Lysander'. They were amongst several books which I inherited from a friend who died in 2005. And I've only just got round to reading them. I find this sadly can happen with our books, even when we're keen readers; they languish on shelves unread, because life, and many other books, have claimed our attention first. But now I've read Finlay J Macdonald's wonderful trilogy about his early life in Harris, in the Outer Hebrides. And I've discovered that his stories are touching, poetic, racy, colourful and so moving.

What a wonderful writer he was. These books - based as they are on BBC radio talks he did some 30 years ago - represent the compelling narrative of a truly gifted raconteur. Some of his sentences are half a page long, and you have the feeling of a mature, experienced man regaling you with colourful tales from his own distant past in a thick Hebridean accent, and you're captivated. His vivid descriptions of the landscape in south Harris, and his piquant tales of the characters in the community of crofters are beguiling.

For many of us,perhaps, in England, the Outer Hebrides are those little specks off the top lefthand corner of Britain; but now Finlay Macdonald has filled me with a desire to go there in the near future, and experience the Outer Hebrides for myself.


The Casual Vacancy
The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.84

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars JKR examines the 'devices and desires' of our own hearts, 11 Sept. 2013
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Paperback)
When I first began this novel several months ago, I found it a struggle to get through the unrelenting nastiness, without finding any one character I could identify or empathize with. And at that time I chose to put it down.

Nevertheless, I was determined to come back to the novel later when I felt ready to tackle it. And I'm glad I did. This time I very quickly began to recognize elements from the hometown of my childhood - local characters & social/political/economic issues. When the author begins to fill in the backgrounds of the characters, giving them greater depth, I started to feel, at some level, empathy for Terri, and for Krystal, and for their terrible plight - and glimmers of humour also relieved the grimness of the characters' behaviour.

JKR inspires both pity & anger with her waspish vignettes of mothers who betray their children with submissiveness, moral weakness & cowardice, & fathers/husbands who trample close relationships with arrogance, intolerance & cruelty, & teenagers full of hatred & resentment. She also penetrates right to the heart of class consciousness & snobbery, & those who live with an innate sense of 'superiority'. These attitudes riddle our society, & our hearts & souls; they blight lives, destroy hope, & ensure injustice and inequality prevails. They lower people's self-esteem and propagate lies that last a lifetime. All this JKR skilfully conveys in The Casual Vacancy.

I found many sharp portrayals: the conversation as a social worker visits a drug addict; the inner life of a bullied teenager as she self harms, her situation made worse by a harsh, unsympathetic mother; the fragile threads upon which a drug addict's rehabilitation depends; the pressures at home which force teenagers into depraved company and behaviour. JKR accurately conveys the effect that going to a certain sort of school has on one's sense of self-worth, and upon the choices one makes in one's friendships and future life.

It's clear to me that the characters in this novel are behaving 'their' way - in other words, the default setting of human nature. It would be pointless and disingenuous for any of us who live in contemporary English society to pretend that we cannot recognize something murky of ourselves somewhere in this novel: something that points up the 'devices and desires' of our own hearts.

However, although I enormously admire what JKR has done in this story, I still feel it lacks a strong enough spiritual message or act of redemption at the end; and the potential for that is very strongly present as the narrative progresses. It's only this factor which prevents me from giving the book 5 stars.


Losing Face
Losing Face
by Annie Try
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a thought-provoking story arousing questions of identity & self-image, 5 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Losing Face (Paperback)
A very thought-provoking story which raises critical issues about life-changing events and their emotional fall-out for all involved. I felt this could translate to numerous situations other than a car accident causing injury & major disfigurement, because this story arouses questions of identity and self-image, particularly among teenagers.

Cass and Em are two girls each exploring their own reactions to a tragic situation from different points of view, re-examining their thoughts and behaviour, and discovering new things about themselves and each other. As their relationship reaches breaking point, they struggle to deal with how Cass's accident has changed both their lives.

I thought Annie Try's narrative was touching, moving, and beautifully described. I gave this novel 4 rather than 5 stars because I felt certain elements were unsatisfying. Cass's boyfriend Spider is handled in a rather distant way.I found myself wondering why he wasn't convicted for dangerous driving causing serious injury. And there was no exploration of his apparent total lack of guilt and conscience. To me this was a major moral issue to the story, which was glazed over. I wanted to see him confront the enormity of what he had done - yet it never happened. Perhaps this is a true reflection of life; but in fiction it fails to satisfy.


The Rosie Project
The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliantly funny, perceptive story, 2 Sept. 2013
This review is from: The Rosie Project (Hardcover)
Each reader brings to a book their own life-experiences, worldview, thoughts,feelings & knowledge. My own experiences and knowledge of autism and asperger's syndrome in people close to me gives me a special angle onto this excellent book. As I began to read it, it made me think of a cross-between 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time',and 'Diary of a Nobody'. As I continued to read, my admiration increased. Reading the story of Don Tillman, Genetics professor with Asperger's Syndrome, through his own eyes, is like experiencing the world as a parallel universe. The precision, honesty and simplicity of the narrator is both refreshing, touching, and moving. Having finished the book, not only did I find it extremely funny but enormously discerning about ourselves and our social behaviour.

On occasions, as I read the hilarious descriptions of Don's interactions with so-called 'normal' people, I found myself thinking, How can a person so mismanage critical moments of intimacy? The answer is, a person with Asperger's Syndrome. Or, perhaps, a reader may say - a person like me? Don misinterprets social cues. But how many of us can say that we are always strangers to that either?

I found it fascinating to have a rigorous and dispassionate examination of all the components of a piece of human behaviour, that people regularly indulge in without thinking it ever has to be explained.

I loved reading Don's meticulous recording of his systems and of 'normal' people's responses to him and his procedures for interpreting those responses. I even found myself thinking his Standardised Meal System had a lot to recommend it!

This is a brilliantly funny, perceptive story through the viewpoint of an autistic mind, which serves to open our eyes to ourselves, our behaviour and, perhaps, our own extreme oddness.


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