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Emma (Vintage Classics Austen Series)
Emma (Vintage Classics Austen Series)
by Jane Austen
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Marvellous Novel and a Very Attractive New Edition, 15 July 2014
"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition" is the twenty-one-year-old heroine of Jane Austen's wonderful novel: 'Emma' set in the village of Highbury. Having decided to remain unmarried herself, Emma delights in match-making amongst her friends and neighbours, and with one success already under her belt, with the marriage of her governess to an eligible gentleman neighbour, Emma sets out to help things along in the matrimonial field with her new friend, Harriet, and the vicar, Mr Elton, against the advice of her good friend, Mr Knightley. Mr Elton, however, has other ideas and has his mind set on quite a different partner and hence the road to romance does not quite go the way Emma had planned. And then a very suitable and seemingly eligible young man for Emma arrives in Highbury, and is keen to make himself amenable to our heroine, but this young man is hiding a secret, which when finally revealed, shocks Emma and everyone around her....

From an author who really needs no introduction, this witty, beautifully written and deftly composed story is a delight from start to finish. Emma is a marvellous (if sometimes slightly irritating) heroine, and most of the other characters are a delight, including Emma's hypochondriac father and the very garrulous Miss Bates. Wonderfully amusing this is a novel to read and reread - I have been reading Jane Austen since I was twelve years old and I cannot remember how many times I have read and enjoyed this book - but one of the main purposes of this review is to talk about the lovely new Vintage Classic editions of Jane Austen's classics. This particular novel has a beautiful cover designed by artist and illustrator Leanne Shapton, with inner flaps to the cover to make the book feel more substantial, is attractively decorated on the inside and has a short, but interesting introduction by Andrew Motion. Lovely to handle, wonderful to read - if you are looking for a paperback copy of this novel and do not require a comprehensive introduction and notes, then I can heartily recommend this edition.

5 Stars.


The Mark Of The Angel
The Mark Of The Angel
by Nancy Huston
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.87

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Mark of the Angel, 14 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Mark Of The Angel (Paperback)
Nancy Huston's unusual novel begins in 1957 in Paris, when famous flautist, Raphael Lepage, advertises for a maid. Responding to his advertisement is Saffie, a young German girl and, immensely attracted by her air of cool detachment, Raphael soon finds himself proposing marriage, but is later dismayed when Saffie's remoteness does not appear to be hiding an inner passion. When their son, Emil, is born, Raphael hopes that Saffie will now reveal some real feelings, but it is not until she visits the old Jewish quarter of the city, and meets Andras, an exiled Hungarian instrument maker, that Saffie finally comes to life. Both Saffie and Andras, damaged by the ordeals they underwent during the war, fall passionately in love with one another, and it is through their conversations and their experiences when Saffie visits Andras in his workshop, and where they make love in a curtained alcove, that the reader learns what has happened to them and how their lives have been shaped by the events they have witnessed. (There is a lot more to this story, of course, but I shall leave the remainder for prospective readers to discover for themselves).

Set amidst the violence of another war, this time the horrors of the Algerian conflict, and ending with a further tragedy, Nancy Huston's novel made for an unusual and thought-provoking read. Yet somehow I was not as moved by this novel as I would have expected, especially considering some of the subject matter covered in the story. I think this may have been partly due to author's style of writing, with quite a number of short sentences, some of them comprising of just one or two words, and many instances where the sentences ended with a series of dots ... which I found a little distracting. I also found the manner in which the author delivered some of the story's very sensitive issues, in such a matter-of-fact way, rather disconcerting. On the cover of my edition there is a quote stating that the author "places herself as a detached observer" - and that is rather how I felt myself, almost as a detached observer from what I feel should have been a very emotive and involving story. That is not to say that I was unaffected by the issues covered in this novel, or that I did not learn anything from the experience of reading it, but just that I could not really get as involved in the characters or their situations as much as I would have liked or expected. But, of course, that could be the fault of this reader, and not the fault of the writer.

3.5 Stars.


Weather in Africa
Weather in Africa
by Martha Gellhorn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.02

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Weather in Africa, 13 July 2014
This review is from: Weather in Africa (Paperback)
Set in the striking landscape of East Africa, the three loosely linked novellas in this collection, reveal a different side to the writer, Martha Gellhorn, who was renowned for her war reportage and her journalistic and travel writing. All three stories are very readable, although the first story: 'On the Mountain' is most probably the least strong, where we read of two sisters, the beautiful Jane, and the very plain Mary Ann, who return home to Africa and to their parents' hotel after spending time abroad. Jane, a vain but mediocre nightclub singer losing her bloom, and Mary Ann, who had no bloom to lose, are both unmarried and they soon become involved in unsuitable relationships - and in Jane's case, a particularly destructive one. The second story: 'By the Sea', a very poignant and emotive tale (which, I understand, is semi-autobiographical) is in a different class to the first story and tells the story of a heartbroken woman who, when trying to escape memories of her son's tragic death, becomes involved in yet another tragic event, which brings her right to the very end of her tether. In the third and longest story: 'In the Highlands' we meet a lonely, naive and emotionally scarred young Englishman, who still suffering from his years in a German prisoner-of-war camp, buys a neglected farm which he throws himself wholeheartedly into rebuilding. All seems to go reasonably well until he enters into a disastrous marriage with a narrow-minded and embittered woman, who changes everything around her for the worse - but is there anything our tender-hearted hero can do to remedy the situation?

An attractively presented collection, with an Afterword by Caroline Moorehead (Gellhorn's biographer) these poignant and sobering stories are all, to varying levels, pervaded by a sense of loss. The author (who had her own house built near Nairobi) writes with affection for the East African landscape, and although the sense of Africa is not particularly strong in the first two stories in the collection, the dramatic landscape is beautifully and effectively portrayed in the third and most substantial of the novellas. Whilst Martha Gellhorn's fiction may not be in the same class as her non-fiction work, I was entertained by these novellas, reading all three, one after the other, and would be happy to read further examples of the author's fiction writing.

4 Stars


Aren't We Sisters?
Aren't We Sisters?
Price: 3.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 Stars. Entertaining Downtime Read, 10 July 2014
It is the early 1930s and Lettie Quick, a very down-to-earth nurse, trained by Marie Stopes, the founder of the first birth control clinic in Britain and author of the manual 'Married Love', arrives in a quiet town in Cornwall, and opens the Silkhampton Mothers' Clinic. However, working in the clinic and offering advice and contraceptive aids to Silkhampton's female population, is not Lettie's only source of income, for Lettie has a very profitable sideline, but it's one that could conceivably get her into rather a lot of trouble. Living alone in Silkhampton after the death of her mother is spinster, Norah Thornby, the owner of a rather grand, but dilapidated house, who is finding it hard to make ends meet. Norah has, in her mother's opinion, already lowered herself and found a part-time job, but she now has to sink even lower and find a lodger to help pay the bills. Norah has spare rooms, Lettie needs somewhere to live while she is working in Silkhampton, and so the unlikely pair meet and begin sharing a home together. At first, Norah finds it a little uncomfortable living with another woman who is not her mother, but she is even more discomfited when out walking she discovers on the beach, at the foot of the cliffs, the lifeless body of local woman, Nurse Wainright. Did she fall? Or was she pushed? A few miles away, in an isolated and somewhat creepy old house, a young and beautiful actress, Rae Grainger, has found the hideaway she has been searching for. Looked after by the elderly housekeeper and caretaker of the property, Mrs Givens, Rae begins to prepare herself for a life-altering event - but it's an event that must remain a secret and one that has something to do with Nurse Lettie Quick.

A sequel to: The Midwife's Daughter (which I haven't read), Patricia Ferguson's latest story is an intriguing and unusual one. On the cover of the book, it tempts the reader in with the information that there is a killer on the loose in Silkhampton, endangering all three women, yet the novel does not really read as a thriller or murder mystery and until the last few pages, where there is a fair amount of (rather fraught) action, is mostly a leisurely-paced story. That said, Patricia Ferguson writes well of the period in which she has set her tale, her information about early birth control, and the lack of it, was interesting, and she writes very convincingly of the smaller details of her characters' daily lives. Also, I was amused by the author's 'tongue-in-cheek' writing style, especially when writing about Lettie's irreverent sense of humour and I enjoyed reading about her growing friendship with the rather prudish, but likeable Norah, the contrast between the two characters being very well-depicted. So although this novel may not have been quite what I was expecting, it certainly made for an entertaining and undemanding downtime read which worked well for me after a couple of hectic days at work.

3.5 Stars.


Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision
Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision
by Frances Spalding
Edition: Paperback
Price: 15.30

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Art, Life and Vision, 7 July 2014
This lavishly illustrated and beautifully presented publication by biographer and art historian Frances Spalding, accompanies the exhibition of portraits and rare archival material, curated by the author for the forthcoming exhibition 'Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision' being held at the National Portrait Gallery from the 10th July until the 26th October 2014. Virginia Woolf, novelist, essayist, diarist, campaigner and critic, is one of the most renowned and influential modernist writers of the twentieth century; she held a key position within the Bloomsbury Group and, as stated in the introduction to this book, her novelistic output, most notably 'Jacob's Room' (1922), 'Mrs Dalloway' (1925), 'To The Lighthouse' (1927),'The Waves' (1931) and 'Between the Acts' (1941), transformed ideas about structure, plot and characterisation. Frances Spalding's book is illustrated with over one hundred works from both public and private collections and it is marvellous to have all of these collected together in this one publication. The text which accompanies the photographs, portraits and copies of letters in this book, provides succinct yet informative biographical details of Virginia Woolf, her family, friends and fellow writers and artists, and also provides information about what was happening around her at the time (there is even a section on Virginia Woolf's wardrobe entitled 'Embracing Fashion'). Beautifully presented and printed on thick, good quality paper with a helpful 'Chronology' and 'Further Reading' section at the end of the book, this is a very nice publication for enthusiasts of Virginia Woolf to add to their collection, for those planning to visit, or who have visited the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, and would also work well as a colourful introduction for those who do not yet know a huge amount about Virginia Woolf and wish to discover more.

4 Stars.

Also recommended: Hermoine Lee's definitive biography of the writer:Virginia Woolf; Frances Spalding's excellent biography of Virginia Woolf's sister, Vanessa Bell, the artist of several of the portraits shown in 'Art, Life and Vision'; Jane Dunn's: Virginia Woolf And Vanessa Bell: A Very Close Conspiracy; and also, as a brief introduction to Virginia Woolf, I can recommend Alexandria Harris's short life:Virginia Woolf.


The Third Wife
The Third Wife
by Lisa Jewell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 6.49

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Addicted to Love?, 6 July 2014
This review is from: The Third Wife (Hardcover)
No Spoilers.

Adrian Wolfe, a charming, middle-aged three-times married man is addicted to being in love. Married in his twenties to first wife Susie, the mother of two of his five children: Luke and Cat, he then falls in love with the beautiful Caroline, leaves Susie and their two young children, and starts all over again with Caroline. After several years of seemingly happy marriage to Caroline, and three children later - Otis, Pearl and baby Beau - Adrian, now in his mid-forties, gets itchy feet and moves on yet again to pastures new with the petite, red-haired Maya. Adrian tells himself that he is a lucky man and that everything has worked out for the best - all three wives get on well with one another; the whole family go on holiday with each other every summer; the children appear to have coped well with the many changes in their lives; and now Adrian and Maya are trying for baby number six to add to the happy clan. But nothing is actually quite what it seems - Maya has been receiving poison emails addressed to: 'Dear Bitch', Adrian's children are all, in their own ways, suffering from Adrian putting his own happiness before theirs, and then one night a very unhappy Maya, out on her own, drinks a huge amount of vodka and falls in front of a bus and is killed. Was it suicide? An accident? Or was she driven to her death? (No spoilers- we learn about Maya's death right at the beginning of the book and the rest of the information I have revealed appears early on in the book). Now that he is on his own for the first time in his life, Adrian gradually discovers that his seemingly perfect life, is not perfect at all and that his selfish actions have consequences that cannot just be charmed away. And then an unusual and very attractive young woman seems to be stalking Adrian - but who is she? And what does she want?

With her later novels, in particular:The House We Grew Up In and Before I Met You, (both of which I have read), Lisa Jewell has been trying to move away from the 'chick lit' label she feels has been inaccurately applied to her early novels, and has now entered into the psychological thriller arena with 'The Third Wife' - a decision which, according to an interview I read with the author, she began to doubt during the writing of this book, and I must admit that although very readable, this novel did not really have the intensity or the amount of plot twists normally found in a psychological thriller. That said, Adrian's character, with his immaturity, his selfish brand of charm and his insistence on ignoring what he does not want to see, was described well, and I also found that Maya's situation of trying to fit in with Adrian's large family and how she became increasingly dismayed by her own submissiveness and acquiescence, was portrayed particularly well. I also enjoyed the author's perceptive observations of family life and of the feelings of nostalgia experienced by parents when faced with their children's growing independence. So, all in all, although I have to confess to not enjoying this quite as much as 'The House We Grew Up In' and I felt the ending was too neatly resolved, this novel did make for an undemanding and entertaining weekend read and should work well for those looking for a diverting downtime read.

3/3.5 Stars.


Touched
Touched
Price: 3.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Unsettling Tale, 4 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Touched (Kindle Edition)
No Spoilers.

Set in the summer of 1963, Joanna Briscoe's unsettling tale begins when the Crale family: Douglas and Rowena, and their five children: twin sisters, Rosemary and Jennifer, the fey Evangeline, little Bobby and baby Caroline, move into the village of Crowsely Beck and start renovating two old cottages in order to make a large, comfortable family home. Evangeline, named after her paternal grandmother (an ailing, elderly widow, who lived in one of the cottages, but was removed from her home against her will when her son and daughter-in-law felt she could no longer take care of herself) is an unusual, unbalanced young girl who dresses in her grandmother's old clothes, often goes off on her own with her imaginary friend Freddie, and blames her mother for pushing her grandmother out of her home so that Rowena could have the country cottage she has been dreaming of - a fact that Rowena finds she cannot convincingly deny. However, Rowena cannot enjoy her new home, because when the builders try to knock down a wall between the two cottages, it feels as if the building is trying to reject its new occupants as the walls groan and almost shriek in protest, and an unpleasant smell pervades the rooms - even when the building is finally re-plastered and newly decorated, the walls ooze moisture, nasty stains appear on the wallpaper, and Rowena starts hearing odd noises and begins to feel a presence in her home. And then Evangeline goes missing, followed by the disappearance of her beautiful, doll-like sister, Jennifer, and young Bobby starts hearing and seeing things that aren't really there. Or are they?... (No spoilers, we learn most of this early on and there is a lot more for prospective readers to discover).

Another of the Hammer novels - where well-known authors such as: Helen Dunmore (The Greatcoat) and Julie Myerson (The Quickening) have been asked to write stories with a flavour of the supernatural - this latest offering makes for an absorbing and eerie read, with many of the elements of a successful ghost story present: the odd noises, the weird smells, the face at the window, the discovery of a secret room and more. I am becoming quite fond of these Hammer stories - it is necessary, of course, to suspend disbelief, but they are quick to read, unsettling and rather creepy, yet they don't frighten me to the extent that I can't enjoy them as a bedtime read. However, with this particular novel, it is not just the supernatural elements in the tale that make for unsettling reading - it is the presence of the potentially dangerous real-world horrors that added something extra to this story for me - but obviously I cannot explain further as I have no intention of spoiling Joanna Briscoe's unusual tale for prospective readers.

4 Stars.


Upstairs at the Party
Upstairs at the Party
Price: 7.49

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Upstairs at the Party. 3.5 Stars, 4 July 2014
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Adele Ginsberg, a bright child, grows up in Liverpool in the 1960s and does well at school, but after the suicide of her much-loved father, she runs off the rails and only manages to achieve two Cs and a D in her A-levels. After winning a poetry competition and appearing in the local paper, Adele leaves school and begins a stint working on a perfume counter, which she finds stifling and boring. Feeling that there must be more to life than working in a shop, and despite her poor A-level results, Adele decides to apply to read English at a newly built university in a northern cathedral city and, by claiming she is a relation of the famous American poet, Alan Ginsberg, she manages to get an interview, followed by the offer of a place. It is now the early 1970s, and at university "addicted to instant coffee and nicotine", Adele meets the vibrant Bobby, a gay, half-Iranian fellow student, and the mesmerising but fragile, Evie, an ethereal white-blonde beauty, with whom Adele quickly becomes infatuated. However, it is Evie's brother, George, who looks so like his sister, that Adele begins an affair with, but then something tragic happens to Evie which changes the dynamics of Adele's and George's relationship.

The second and third section of the book moves away from life at university and follows the main characters' lives through the seventies and onwards up until the present day, where briefly we read of strikes, IRA bombs, punk rock bands, the death of one of the characters from AIDS, the affluence of the 1980s, the recession of the early 1990s and much more. Linda Grant's 'Upstairs at the Party' is an interesting and well-written novel, however it's one which I found rather bleak in places, and the story and the characters unfortunately failed to captivate me as much as I would have expected. I also found it difficult to sustain my interest in the characters' lives once we moved away from their university days in the first part of the book - which I thought was the strongest part of this novel. Beyond that, I felt the story got a little lost along the way - but I cannot explain further without revealing spoilers. That said, Linda Grant is a very good writer, I have read and enjoyed some of her other books and, as a piece of social history, 'Upstairs at the Party' is a relevant and interesting piece of writing, but as a novel, this did not really engage or satisfy me as much as I would have liked.

3.5 Stars.
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The Woman in the Picture
The Woman in the Picture
by Katharine McMahon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 9.00

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Woman in the Picture, 3 July 2014
It is 1926, we are in London, and Evelyn Gifford, one of Britain's first female solicitors, has taken on a case that other lawyers might think twice about. She is about to defend Lady Petit, who is being sued by her husband, Timothy Petit, a prominent member of parliament, for divorce; Timothy Petit is also denying the paternity of their three-year-old daughter, Annice, and is claiming the marriage was never consummated. Advised by her boss, Daniel Breen, not to accept the case, Evelyn, keen to prove her worth and concerned for the Petit child, decides to go ahead, but she soon realizes that the case is going to be a very difficult one - especially when she learns that her former love, Nicholas Thorne, is acting for Timothy Petit. Matters at home are also causing Evelyn some unsettled moments; her flatmate, Meredith, an artist and the mother of her beloved nephew, Edmund, is planning on leaving for France and taking Edmund with her; her aunt Prudence, a very capable woman who has been living with and supporting Evelyn's difficult mother is off to India; and then Daniel Breen confesses he has fallen in love with Evelyn, while she is still trying to get over her love affair with Nicholas Thorne. And now that Nicholas Thorne is back in Evelyn's life will she be able to forget the past and move forward into a relationship with Daniel? Or will the passionate feelings she once had for Nicholas pull her back into his orbit? (No spoilers, we learn all of this and more early on in the novel and there is plenty more for prospective readers to discover). Alongside her work on the Petit case, Evelyn also becomes involved with the Wright family, particularly Mrs Wright, a battered wife, who is soon very much in need of Evelyn's professional and moral support.

Set against the backdrop of the General Strike of 1926, when trade unions called a strike in support of coal miners who had been 'locked out' after refusing to accept lower wages and longer working hours, Katharine McMahon's atmospheric story makes for an interesting and involving read. The author has researched her period of history well and has provided her readers with an evocative recreation of London in the 1920s. Evelyn is an interesting and arresting character and her first-person narrated account draws the reader into her story from the very first pages. It is true that not all of the characters are as well-depicted as Evelyn and I would have very much liked to have read a lot more about the artist, Meredith, and her back history, but I understand that this novel is a sequel to: The Crimson Rooms (which I have not yet read) so Meredith's story is likely to have been covered in more depth in the previous novel. Although this book is a sequel, and I feel it is most probably beneficial to have read 'The Crimson Rooms' before this, Katharine McMahon has thoughtfully included brief details in the narrative about what has gone before, so it is possible to enjoy this novel without having read 'The Crimson Rooms'. I found 'The Woman in the Picture' a very readable story and one I would recommend for an entertaining weekend or downtime read and for those times when you want something undemanding and enjoyable without being too lightweight. I wonder if the author is planning a third Evelyn Gifford novel - if she is, I shall be looking out for it.


Thirst for Love (Vintage Classics)
Thirst for Love (Vintage Classics)
by Yukio Mishima
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.56

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Passion, Obsession and Jealousy, 30 Jun 2014
An early novel by the talented Yukio Mishima, 'Thirst for Love' focuses on Etsuko, a beautiful widow who, after the death from typhoid of her unfaithful husband, moves from Tokyo to her father-in-law's house in the country. Etsuko's ageing widower father-in-law, Yakichi, is a pompous landowner who has risen from his farming roots, and who soon makes her aware that he is physically attracted to her. However, although Etsuko does not find him remotely attractive, she succumbs to Yakichi's attentions and becomes his mistress, which causes a certain amount of resentment among the rest of the family. Living in the family home is her brother-in-law, her two sisters-in-law, Miyo the maid, and Saburo, a young, strong and handsome gardener. Against her better judgement, Etsuko finds herself becoming obsessed with Saburo, comparing his young, sinuous body to the wrinkled, sagging flesh of her father-in-law, and before long Yakichi notices Etsuko's inappropriate feelings for the gardener, but he is unsure exactly how to best deal with the situation. And then Etsuko discovers something about Saburo that arouses her jealousy and provokes her into an action that has tragic consequences for all involved.

An exploration of passion, obsession and jealousy, Yukio Mishima's story of complex emotions should make for a rather intense and involving read, but I must admit that I did not become quite as involved in this story as I have with other novels I have read from this author. It is very well-written, there are some good descriptions of Japanese family life, and considering the author was only in his twenties when this book was written, there are some perceptive observations of sexual jealousy and of the desire to inflict pain in pursuit of revenge; however, I somehow did not find myself becoming as swept up in the story, or as involved with the characters or as convinced by their situations as I would have expected. That said, this is still an interesting and very readable novel - just not, I feel, one of Mishima's best.


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