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I. Black "Irene Black" (Surrey, UK)

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Tell A Thousand Lies
Tell A Thousand Lies
by Rasana Atreya
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.49

4.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking novel, 12 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Tell A Thousand Lies (Paperback)
If this book had not been set in India it would have been 'far-fetched', as some reviewers have said. However, having lived in South India myself (and being a writer of a novel partly set in Hyderabad) I know that much of the corruption, superstition and cruelty the author has written about does indeed take place. Of course, being a novel, she has allowed herself considerable poetic licence with the plot and the linking of characters. Also I felt that the book was rather a roller-coaster ride - the situation is resolved so many times and then reverts right back to square one, that I began to think 'oh, no, not again!'. Having said that, the book was a fascinating page-turner written by someone whose criticism of the country clearly arises from her love of it. I will certainly read more by her.


The Coroner's Lunch: A Dr Siri Murder Mystery (Dr Siri Paiboun Mystery Book 1)
The Coroner's Lunch: A Dr Siri Murder Mystery (Dr Siri Paiboun Mystery Book 1)
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Hooked!, 15 April 2014
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My son. who lives in Laos, recommended this book. Now I'm hooked. I've read all the Dr Siri books and am desperately hoping there's another in the pipeline. Please let Dr Siri go on for many years - it's so great to have an older 'hero'. And I love his motley crew. What a wonderful painter of character Colin Cotterill is! All the main protagonists are unforgettable. Mr Cotterill writes with such wit and humour, even when the story gets dark. He also paints a fantastic picture of Vientiane, which certainly helped bring the city to life for me on my first visit. I love the intrusion of the spirit world. You could not call this a conventional novel, and the author ignores all those 'rules' that writers are 'meant' to adhere to. The result is a crazy, absorbing, magical, sometimes gory, always entertaining, ride though a fascinating land with a cast of unforgettable characters. Write on, Mr Cotterill!


The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Elias Canetti
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly relevant and informative, 15 April 2014
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I wish I had read this before my recent visit to Morocco. Canetti gently instils a flavour of Marrakesh without resorting to fact overkill. It is a short book - which is not a criticism. It is the sign of a good writer to be able to say a lot in few words. I particularly enjoyed his sorties into the mellah, where now only ghosts of those occupants reside. His descriptions of the way animals are treated are hard to read, but still, I'm afraid, true. He also leaves some food for thought regarding the French colonial era. If you are planning a trip to Morocco, read this book before you go.


Bulgaria - land of Skies: Everything you always wanted to know about Bulgaria - and more
Bulgaria - land of Skies: Everything you always wanted to know about Bulgaria - and more
Price: £2.18

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Glimpse into unfamiliar Territory, 7 Mar. 2014
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Until I read this, Bulgaria evoked for me faceless grey Soviet apartment blocks beside a dull sea; cabbages and undrinkable firewater. What a surprise it was to read this account of the writer's travels and to realise that I actually did not know anything about Bulgaria at all. Jay Margrave's eloquently-written prose takes us through an enigmatic land, rich in history, stunning architecture and beautiful landscapes. The writer dots the book with anecdotes about eccentric people, local tales and legends, as well as some wonderfully imaginative and amusing forays into the writer's own thoughts and conclusions. This is an idiosyncratic book which will entertain you while giving you a true sense of the real Bulgaria.


The Boat Race
The Boat Race
by Anjali Mittal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply gorgeous, 27 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Boat Race (Paperback)
The Boat Race follows the adventures of two unlikely companions in rural Kenya: Kante, a boy from a local village, and Zack, a 'posh' boarding school pupil. Together they sail their paper boats into the realm of the Banana People, where, with the help of the Banana Princess, a magic flute and a cast list of fabulous African animals and Maasai warriors they set out to find the great Wildebeest migration in order to save the Banana People. The story is enchanting, charming, sprinkled with stardust. It is also educational and, of course, magical.

Written for 7-11-year-olds, I, as an adult, found it irresistible, and depending on their reading ability, I am sure it will appeal to adults and children outside this age range as well. The whole thing is brought to life by Ms Mittal's wonderful pen and ink drawings at the start of each chapter.

I enjoyed her first two books very much, but in The Boat Race Ms Mittal's writing soars to a new high.
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The Hungry Tide
The Hungry Tide
by Amitav Ghosh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, 20 Jan. 2013
This review is from: The Hungry Tide (Paperback)
From the moment I picked this book up I was hooked. Admittedly Ghosh was onto a winner before I'd even read the first page, as far as I was concerned, since I am passionate about India (where I have lived) and also its wildlife. The Sundarbans have always fascinated me, particularly the tiger population, and as I read the book I dreaded that something might happen that I'd rather not read about. When it did, it shook me to the core and I had to force myself to pick up the book again. Ghosh, though, always conveys very subtly that an honest work of literature must deal with the unpalatable, rather than skirting around it. Tied up with the fate of the wildlife and the wild places, is the fate of the local people as well as refugees from across the border, all trying to eke out a subsistence livelihood. It is a daily struggle against a murderously hostile environment and a murderously hostile government.

Ghosh made me look at the events in the novel through the eyes of those involved and however dreadful their actions may seem to us outsiders, put into context, it helps us understand. That doesn't make it any easier to accept all of what happens in the novel. However, by painting such a graphic picture of the area and events, Ghosh makes us aware of the precarious conditions there for both humans and wildlife. Only in this way can change be initiated.

I've made it sound as if the book is horrific. It isn't. It's a wonderful read. While being incredibly thought-provoking, it doesn't bear the self-indulgent obscurities of some (many!) other writers of literary fiction. Ghosh always manages to make the didactic feel pleasurable. This is a beautiful novel.


The Forgotten Garden
The Forgotten Garden
Price: £4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This Garden Needs Weeding!, 15 Nov. 2012
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This is a tale of fractured identity and the search for ancestors. A four-year-old girl arrives alone in Australia and is found with a small suitcase on a quayside in Queensland: an intriguing start to the novel. Why is she alone? A read-on question.

However, in spite of the promising plot idea, the novel had many flaws. Chief among these was the fact that the many female protagonists - all related - with dramatic back-stories, involve the reader in dizzy time-travel back and forth over a whole century. In the early part of the 20th century we are introduced to unfortunate, destitute Eliza and her tragedy-stained mother Georgiana. Shoot forward half a century or so and we meet Nell, an Australian grandmother with a mysterious past. Another generation on and we arrive in 2005 when Cassandra suddenly becomes the focal point. Just as we're trying to digest the connections between these, we zoom backwards again to encounter frail, pale Rose, and at some other point, Rose's rather unpleasant mother, Adeline, pops up with her own story to tell.

I agree, the book has been cleverly devised with an eventual drawing-together of threads. But I still found that it was, shall we say, too `busy' in its characterisation and time-leaps. Towards the middle I was getting irritated. It needs drastic cutting.

There are also other ways in which it needs editing and proof-reading. It was rather naÔve to choose a name like Robyn for a mid-20th century Cornish character, when this name, to me, cries out Australia, where it is very common. Morton is an Australian writer and appears to have defaulted to names familiar to her instead of researching English names of the period. Some of my own novels are set in India and I wouldn't dream of picking an Indian name out of a hat - I consult Indian friends to make sure I get the right name for the right person. Surely that's the least we can expect? There are other typos - wrong words used etc.

Morton is obsessed with skin - I thought I might scream if I came across yet one more reference to skin heating, cooling (a particular favourite) , tingling, prickling (another favourite) or rippling. This is so, so much the mark of an inexperienced writer.

It's difficult to make my last comment without introducing a spoiler. Suffice to say that the dénouement near the end is unbelievable while at the same time obvious. I guessed it very early on because it was predictable to the plot. It was not, however, predictable from the characterisation. I felt that this particular character would never do such a thing. But she did. This is perhaps a mark of shallow characterisation. I didn't empathise with any of them.

Having said all that, it's a compulsive read - won't challenge you intellectually and won't shock you with gratuitous sex or violence. A good book at bedtime.


In An Antique Land
In An Antique Land
Price: £6.79

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound, Fascinating and Wise, 24 Oct. 2012
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In the early 1980s Amitav Ghosh was living in rural Egypt, engaged in field world for his social anthropology doctorate. In this book Ghosh plaits together three different stories: that of his time living in two Egyptian villages, his return to the villages eight years later and the life of 12th century North African Jewish merchant Ben Yiju and his Indian `slave' (actually more of a business associate) Bomma. Ghosh discovered the Ben Yiju story by examining documents from the massive haul found in the Geniza (synagogue document repository) of the Palestinian synagogue in the Egyptian town of Fustat. The documents were acquired by Cambridge University, where Ghosh tracked them down.

Ghosh parallels his own sojourns in Egypt, the Malabar coast and return to Egypt, with those of Ben Yiju, who spent some twenty years in Mangalore, marrying a freed Indian slave, before returning to North Africa. Gradually pictures are built up of Egypt and India, ancient and modern. The fascinating revelations about Jewish life in medieval Egypt and the Maghreb , the close relationship between the Muslims and Jews, destroyed only in the last century, are intertwined with Ghosh's own story, a perception of Egyptian villagers through Indian eyes, and, even more interesting, their perception of the Indian catapulted into their midst. Some aspects of his culture were so alien to them that they sometimes seemed to view him as an ignorant refugee from a primitive country, rather than understanding the ignorance of their own unworldliness.

The documents Ghosh worked with provided the framework of Ben Yiju's existence. The meat was provided by Ghosh through painstaking research and logical supposition both in Egypt and in India. Most thought-provoking was his visit at the end of the book to the tomb of a Muslim saint, who, it transpired, was also a Jewish Rabbi. Certainly in the 1980s when Ghosh's visit took place, the tomb was attracting pilgrims from both the Muslim world and Israel, the latter contributing to a huge tourist industry built around the saint's annual festival. This, and the theme throughout the book of Jews and Muslims co-existing like brothers graphically demonstrated the tragedy of what has happened to this brotherhood in the last half century.

When I need inspiration, both as a reader and as a writer, I will dip into this book again and again.


Genuine Soft Dark Brown Leather Travel Pass / Oyster / Credit Card Holder Wallet - Has 20 clear plastic pockets - 3 Further Card Slots & 1 Window
Genuine Soft Dark Brown Leather Travel Pass / Oyster / Credit Card Holder Wallet - Has 20 clear plastic pockets - 3 Further Card Slots & 1 Window

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent value, 6 Oct. 2012
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I waited a few months before writing this review because I wanted to make sure it didn't fall apart. It didn't. It seems to be really hardwearing and although it has a lot of indvidual pockets, and I use it constantly it is not tearing or wearing out. The stud fastener is still strong. It has enough pockets for all my cards, passes and even photos of my family. I'm very pleased with this product and when it eventually does fall apart, I will get another.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars You've seen the film - now read the book!, 23 Sept. 2012
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Actually it never occurred to me to read the book, because I didn't realise there was one. I enjoyed the film. I had recently visited Rajasthan and the scenery, architecture and idiosyncrasies of Indian life depicted in the film gave me a warm rush of pleasure. Not always so warm was the rush brought on by the sometimes poignant tales of the elderly inhabitants of the Marigold. It was billed as a comedy. I don't think so, in spite of the humorous plot idea. It was a thought-provoking piece of cinema, with some light touches. The acting, of course, was superb.

But I'm digressing. You don't want to know about the film. This is meant to be a review of the book that I didn't know existed till a German friend, having seen the film, urged me to read it. It was somewhat of a surprise to discover that Deborah Moggach had written it.

It was an even greater surprise to discover that the Best Exotic Marigold wasn't in Jaipur at all, but in Bangalore, where I lived in the early 2000s. The hotel 'guests' were different too, some names were familiar but their characters and circumstances bore no resemblance to the film. This was great, because there was no temptation to picture the characters in the guise of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and so on.

This is not a comfortable book, even less so than the film. More than a few of the truths within its pages are too close to home, particularly for those of us who are edging towards the age of the characters. I found the writing profound and in parts deeply disturbing. But it also had touches of humour, inevitable in view of the zany idea behind it. The last section of the book let it down, as it contained too many coincidences and improbabilities.

As an author myself, I was surprised at the number of typos and spellos in the eBook version, and a few blunders that were inexcusable. The author refers to hummingbirds in India. Hummingbirds are confined to the Americas. Check your facts, Ms Moggach, before you commit them to paper. I was amused to discover that one of the characters, `Douglas' temporarily became `Donald' halfway through. Happens to the best of us, but surely it should have been discovered before going to press? And it's so easy to correct in an eBook.

I felt that the location was not made memorable. I could hardly recognise Bangalore by the descriptions, which were quite superficial. However, I do think it's a book that's well worth reading. Not better, and not worse than the film. Just different.


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