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Dear Thief
Dear Thief
by Samantha Harvey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.29

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dear Thief, 27 Sep 2014
This review is from: Dear Thief (Hardcover)
"In answer to a question you asked a long time ago, I have, yes, seen through what you called the gauze of this life", so begins Samantha Harvey's hauntingly beautiful novel 'Dear Thief'. On Boxing Day, 2001, our unnamed protagonist, the narrator of this tale, begins a long letter to a very old friend she has not seen for many years. We know from the outset of the story that the friend has betrayed our narrator and it is not long before we discover the nature of that betrayal, however, although this story may not be totally original in its concept, the telling of it is beautifully accomplished. Our narrator is in her early fifties and is now living alone and, through the writing of her letter, she relates the story of her close friendship with the beautiful Nina, which began more than thirty years before, when the pair were growing up in Shropshire. As time passes, they go their separate ways, and our narrator meets the enigmatic Nicolas, sifting through the flotsam and jetsam on the banks of the River Thames, and the two soon marry and have a child, Teddy. (No spoilers, we learn all of this early on in the novel). Some time later when they have left London and are living happily in a small cottage, Nina turns up quite literally out of the blue at their back door ("a lucid blue evening in April when the light is so glassy that is is almost a thing in itself, a surface onto which you seemed to condense") and, nick-named 'Butterfly' by young Teddy, she moves in with our narrator and Nicolas. And so begins their painful triangular love story....

'Dear Thief' is beautifully written and its first-person narration draws the reader right into this hypnotic story of love, friendship and betrayal. Of course, we are being told only one side of the story and, as we do not know how reliable our narrator is, we cannot be entirely sure whether what we are hearing is what actually happened or whether she is altering events for her own purposes. In one instance she even goes so far as to say: "When there are so many true things that can be said in life, I don't know why I say the things that aren't" and in another, she comments: "Sometimes I imagine, out of sheer playfulness, that I am writing this as a kind of defence for having murdered you and buried you under the patio." On the surface, this letter can be seen as a way for the narrator to recount her story as she sees it, but there is more to it than a recounting of past events and, amongst other things, our narrator uses the writing of this letter as a vehicle for her to explore her feelings and examine her past behaviour, and so use it as a form of catharsis. Full of interesting metaphors and some beautifully descriptive writing, I found this a captivating, poignant and unusual story and although it's not one I would recommend if you are looking for a pacy, plot-driven tale, if you enjoy beautifully written stories which focus on inner thoughts and imaginings, and with language that resonates, then this is one for you.


The Sunrise
The Sunrise
by Victoria Hislop
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.45

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Sunrise. 3.5 Stars., 25 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Sunrise (Hardcover)
Victoria Hislop's fourth novel takes us back to the early 1970s and to Famagusta on the island of Cyprus. There we meet Savvas Papacosta and his beautiful wife, Aphroditi, who are just about to open their sumptuous five-hundred-bedroomed hotel 'The Sunrise' where Greek and Turkish Cypriots will work harmoniously alongside one another. Running the hotel's impressive new nightclub 'Clair de Lune' is Markos Georgiou, an ambitious and very handsome young man whose younger brother, Christos, is involved with EOKA B, the National Organisation of Cypriot fighters who want to bring Cyprus into a union with Greece. In the hotel's hairdressing salon we meet Emine Ozkan, a friend of Aphroditi's, and a Turkish Cypriot, whose eighteen-year-old son, Huseyin, works for the hotel on its beach, and whose fifteen-year-old son, Ali, the more politically minded of her two older offspring, is a member of the Turkish Resistance Organisation, formed to counter the activities of EOKA. When our story begins, the hotel opening goes exceptionally well and the Papacostas are encouraged to start work on yet another even larger hotel. However, before the second hotel's construction is completed, Savvas' and Aphroditi's marriage begins to show signs of strain and it is not just their relationship which embarks on a turbulent period because soon a Greek coup breaks out, precipitating a crisis which results in Turkey invading Cyprus in order to protect the Turkish Cypriots. In the chaos and terror following the invasion, thousands of Greek and Turkish families flee from their homes - however, two families remain in Famagosta in hiding from the Turkish soldiers, but I shall leave the most interesting part of this story for prospective readers to discover for themselves.

From the author of the best-selling The Island and The Thread, this is an entertaining and very readable story of a particularly interesting period in Cyprus's history, and Victoria Hislop's colourful descriptions of the island were enjoyable to read. I also felt that the author explained the political situation in Cyprus simply and succinctly and she ensured that she made her characters' cultural differences clear and easy to understand. I do, however, have to comment that the author does tend to use cliched language at times and her many descriptions of her protagonists' clothes, hair, jewellery and their general overall appearance, made me view parts of this novel less seriously than I would have liked, and I would have preferred her to have focused more on her characters' back stories and on their inner thoughts and motivations. That said, Victoria Hislop is a good storyteller and the parts of the story where the author depicted the growing fears of her characters as their lives entered into chaos, were involving to read, and the way in which the she illustrated how the two families of opposing views coped with the situation they were thrown into was very well done. It was also interesting how, later on in the story, Victoria Hislop focused on two of the more minor characters, Huseyin and Panikos, and showed them exhibiting their own brand of bravery in some rather frightening situations. (I should like to discuss this further, but cannot do so without revealing too much of the story). If you are looking for an interesting, yet undemanding weekend or downtime read, which combines romance and family loyalties with a very accessible lesson in Cyprus's history, then Victoria Hislop's 'The Sunrise' could well fit the bill for you.

3.5 Stars.


The Blue Room
The Blue Room
by Hanne Orstavik
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.40

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Blue Room, 23 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Blue Room (Paperback)
On the back of this attractively presented slim novel from Peirene Press, is a quote from 'ELLE', which comments that this is "A book for all daughters... A book that will get under your skin." And, up to point, that is true; this story did get under my skin and gave me a somewhat uncomfortable feeling. Translated from the Norwegian, Hanne Ørstavik's story focuses on Johanne, a red-haired, bespectacled young woman in her twenties, studying psychology and living with her mother in a very small loft apartment in Oslo. Johanne and her mother, both seemingly devout Christians, share a very close, interdependent (and frankly, unusual) relationship, which comes under threat when Johanne meets a young part-time musician, Ivar, at university, and falls in love with him. When Ivar tells Johanne that he is planning a trip to America and asks her to accompany him, Johanne who has never had a sexual relationship before (although she indulges in a variety of weird sexual fantasies) agrees to go with him, even though it means breaking off from her studies. Johanne's mother feels shocked, upset and betrayed when Johanne reveals that she is planning to leave, and when the morning of her planned departure arrives, Johanne finds herself locked in her bedroom with no means of escape.

There is an unsettling feeling of menace throughout this story, which is first-person narrated by Johanne, and where we are drawn right into her life and that of her rather creepy mother. Not unsurprisingly, the reader soon begins to realize that Johanne may not be an entirely reliable narrator - we are told there is a brother studying in America, but we cannot be sure about this; we know very little about Johanne's father, and other than a brief glimpse of him during one of Johanne's sexual fantasies, we do not know where he now is or whether he is still alive; and what of Ivar - how much of what Johanne tells us about him is really true? There is more I should like to discuss, but I do not want to reveal too much information or spoil the story for prospective readers. This is an unusual and claustrophobic tale which moves back and forth in time and is interspersed throughout with Johanne's bizarre sexual fantasies, some of which make for rather uncomfortable reading. As we read on, Johanne tells the reader how she met Ivar, of their growing attraction for one another and of her struggle to separate herself from her mother without alienating her. A cleverly constructed and tightly controlled story and one that I found intriguing rather than enjoyable, this is a novel to read in one sitting - and at less than two hundred pages this is not difficult to achieve. Although there were parts to this book that I admired and Hanne Ørstavik is obviously a talented writer, it's one that made for discomfiting, if thought-provoking reading, and one that I would only recommend if you are looking for something rather different.

3.5 Stars.


Clara’s Daughter
Clara’s Daughter
Price: £4.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clara's Daughter, 21 Sep 2014
Set in North London, 'Clara's Daughter' focuses on Michele, a determined and successful business woman with a high-powered job as a CEO which occupies most of her time. She is the mother of two grown-up children, Thea and Felix, who are no longer living at home, and the wife of Jim, who feels that Michele's job and her preoccupation with her elderly mother, Clara, is having a detrimental effect on their marriage. When Clara has a fall and is hospitalised, Michele and her sister, Hilary, decide that their mother can no longer live on her own; however, Clara, an independent, but difficult woman suffering from a growing paranoia, does not want to leave the house that has been her refuge for so many years. Like her mother, who is very strong-minded, Michele feels that it would be better if Clara were to move into a nearby residential home; however, in the face of Clara's insistence that she won't be put in a home, or 'into storage' as she puts it, Michele considers having her basement converted for her mother, and even though Clara does not want to live with her 'cold fish' of a daughter, she agrees, rather than being forced into the unpalatable alternative. When Jim discovers that Michele has had plans drawn up for converting their basement against his wishes, additional strain is put on their marriage which is already in trouble, and when he slams out of the house one evening and doesn't return until the next morning, neither of them can ignore the fact that their marriage is no longer working.

There is an intense and increasingly claustrophobic feel to this brief, but beautifully observed story about control, ageing, family responsibilities and the breakdown of a marriage. Written in a fragmented narrative which shifts backwards and forwards in time and from first person to third person narratives, this is a rather bleak, poignant and, at times, an uncomfortable and almost suffocating read, but it is a very good one. Meike Ziervogel is the founder of the independent publishing house, Peirene Press, which sources and publishes some of the most original and interesting European literature being written today, and reading 'Clara's Daughter ' has made me interested in looking at the author's debut novel: Magda which was nominated as a book of the year in 2013 by the 'Irish Times', 'Observer' and 'Guardian' readers. 'Clara's Daughter' is not a book I would recommend if you are looking for a cosy, straightforward or uplifting read, but if you are looking for something a little different and you have read and enjoyed any of the Peirene novels, then this could fit the bill for you.


The Repercussions
The Repercussions
Price: £8.15

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Repercussions, 20 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Repercussions (Kindle Edition)
No Spoilers.

Jo, a photojournalist specialising in war photography, has recently returned from Afghanistan and is living in a Brighton flat which once belonged to her beloved, but now deceased, Great-Aunt Edith. Feeling physically and emotionally battered by her experiences in Kabul, Jo feels it a comfort to be living on the coast, at the very end of England, and where 'the ground meets the sea'. After years of sleeping with her passport, wallet and phone by the side of the bed, so that she could grab them quickly before dashing off on yet another assignment, and finding that her usual ways of coping with the resultant stress (alcohol and cigarettes) are not working the way they used to, Jo hopes that by settling in Brighton she can bring some balance and order to her life; however, she soon discovers that things are unfortunately not going to be as straightforward or as easy as that. Whilst sifting through her Aunt Edith's belongings, Jo finds a diary written by her great-grandmother, Elizabeth, a nurse who worked at the Brighton Pavilion during the First World War, when the lavishly-decorated royal building became a hospital for wounded Indian soldiers. Trying to cope with flash-backs from her traumatic past, and living with deep regrets of her past love affair with artist, Susie, Jo immerses herself in Elizabeth's diary, where she learns of the difficult predicament her great-grandmother found herself in when she became increasingly attracted to an Indian doctor, even though she was engaged to be married to her army officer fiancé, the war-damaged Robert. (No spoilers, we become aware of all of this early on in the novel).

Moving between Jo's life in the present day and Elizabeth's life one hundred years earlier, Catherine Hall's aptly-titled novel, with its colourful descriptions of Afghanistan and some distressing accounts of life in a war zone, deals with the tragic consequences of war, both that of the past and of the present time. The author, who is involved with charities specialising in human rights, also looks at race, religion and sexual inequality, and has woven these themes carefully (although not in too great a depth) into her story of how war changes those who experience it. She also shows how Elizabeth's predicament and choices were restricted by the social mores of the time in which she lived, compared with Jo's situation, where Jo has more options available to her and more control over her own future than her great-grandmother - but I cannot discuss this further without revealing spoilers. I thought this was an interesting, informative and very readable novel and, although there were aspects to this story that I found worked better than others, and I would have liked to have learnt more about Jo's and Susie's back story, overall I found this an entertaining and worthwhile reading experience. I have not read the author's previous two novels: Days of Grace and The Proof of Love but I am now interested in adding both of those to my ever-growing 'to be read' bookshelves.


The Slow Train to Milan
The Slow Train to Milan
by Lisa St. Aubin De Teran
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars The Slow Train to Milan, 17 Sep 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Lisaveta, an attractive sixteen-year-old, meets Cesar, a handsome Venezuelan exile in his mid thirties, in a street in Clapham. Accompanying Lisaveta home and refusing to leave, Cesar soon becomes an almost permanent fixture in her young life, and before long Lisaveta is heavily involved in Cesar's rather shady existence, and that of his two close friends and fellow guerrillas, Otto and Elias, both of whom are on the run. Although Lisaveta knows practically nothing about the very reticent Cesar, they soon marry and travel to Paris, before meeting up with Otto and Elias and moving on to Rome, Bologna, Milan and Venice. Living the high life when finances permit and existing on almost nothing when their money runs out, the intrepid foursome lead a nomadic, eventful and rather risky existence, but where will it all end?

Beautifully written and wonderfully described, this is an eccentric, amusing and very entertaining novel which, like the author's debut novel: Keepers Of The House, is based on her own life. There are some darker areas to this story, but Lisaveta is a charming narrator of her own tale and I hugely enjoyed this novel with its lovely descriptions of Italy and its depiction of a rather unusual and flamboyant lifestyle. I have had my signed hardback copy of this novel languishing for some time on one of my bookshelves, waiting for when I had the time to really savour it, and have only just finally got around to reading it. I'm happy to say that this novel is going straight back on the shelf to be read and enjoyed all over again at some point in the future. Recommended.

4.5 Stars.

Also recommended by Lisa St Aubin de Teran: Keepers Of The House


Keepers Of The House
Keepers Of The House
by Lisa St. Aubin De Teran
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.91

4.0 out of 5 stars Keepers of the House, 14 Sep 2014
This review is from: Keepers Of The House (Paperback)
Lisa St Aubin de Teran's semi-autobiographical debut novel 'Keepers of the House' is set in the Venezuelan Andes and centres on a young Englishwoman, Lydia, who arrives in the Andes during the 1950s as the much younger wife of sugar planter, Diego Beltran, who is almost the last of the declining Beltran line. Diego's estate and the large dilapidated hacienda in which they both live, has seen much better days, and by the time Lydia arrives, the preceding years of drought and disease have very much taken their toll. Lydia and Diego try to find ways to make the estate more prosperous, but defeated by the weather and lack of good fortune, their plans soon fall by the wayside and after yet another tragic event, Diego, feeling tired, ill and very dispirited takes to his bed and retreats into himself. Lydia, who from the moment she arrives in the Andes, feels that she belongs there, makes friends with Benito, the old family retainer, who shares with her a myriad of stories and legends from the recent and more distant past. And from Benito's stories, full of violence, bloodshed, rivalries and romance, we learn of the intriguing and tragic past history of the Beltran family.

First published in 1982 and winner of the Somerset Maugham Award for that year, Lisa St Aubin de Teran's debut novel is beautifully written, using a mixture of colourful and vivid language intermingled with sparser prose, which contributes to this story's aura of magical realism. The author, who was married to a Venezuelan and lived and worked on their sugar and avocado estate for several years, has effectively drawn on her own experiences for her first novel, and from the very first pages I was pulled into this unusual and rather captivating story. I have several of the author's novels and non-fiction titles on my bookshelves, but somehow never got around to reading them; however reading 'Keepers of the House' has made me keen to remedy this oversight and I look forward to reading and reviewing those unread titles in the not too distant future.

4 Stars.


Keepers of the House (Bloomsbury Classic Series)
Keepers of the House (Bloomsbury Classic Series)
by Lisa St. Aubin De Teran
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.64

4.0 out of 5 stars Keepers of the House, 14 Sep 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Lisa St Aubin de Teran's semi-autobiographical debut novel 'Keepers of the House' is set in the Venezuelan Andes and centres on a young Englishwoman, Lydia, who arrives in the Andes during the 1950s as the much younger wife of sugar planter, Diego Beltran, who is almost the last of the declining Beltran line. Diego's estate and the large dilapidated hacienda in which they both live, has seen much better days, and by the time Lydia arrives, the preceding years of drought and disease have very much taken their toll. Lydia and Diego try to find ways to make the estate more prosperous, but defeated by the weather and lack of good fortune, their plans soon fall by the wayside and after yet another tragic event, Diego, feeling tired, ill and very dispirited takes to his bed and retreats into himself. Lydia, who from the moment she arrives in the Andes, feels that she belongs there, makes friends with Benito, the old family retainer, who shares with her a myriad of stories and legends from the recent and more distant past. And from Benito's stories, full of violence, bloodshed, rivalries and romance, we learn of the intriguing and tragic past history of the Beltran family.

First published in 1982 and winner of the Somerset Maugham Award for that year, Lisa St Aubin de Teran's debut novel is beautifully written, using a mixture of colourful and vivid language intermingled with sparser prose, which contributes to this story's aura of magical realism. The author, who was married to a Venezuelan and lived and worked on their sugar and avocado estate for several years, has effectively drawn on her own experiences for her first novel, and from the very first pages I was pulled into this unusual and rather captivating story. I have several of the author's novels and non-fiction titles on my bookshelves, but somehow never got around to reading them; however reading 'Keepers of the House' has made me keen to remedy this oversight and I look forward to reading and reviewing those unread titles in the not too distant future.

4 Stars.


Pride and Prejudice (Unabridged)
Pride and Prejudice (Unabridged)
Offered by Audible Ltd
Price: £17.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful - but if you want the audio version and have a Kindle, do consider the Kindle Whispersync for Voice Combination,, 13 Sep 2014
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." So begins Jane Austen's wonderful 'Pride and Prejudice' when the arrival of the wealthy Mr Bingley, and his even wealthier friend, Mr Darcy, causes a stir in the village of Longbourn, and particularly in the Bennet household. Mr and Mrs Bennet have five unmarried daughters, no male heir, and their estate is entailed on a pompous clergyman relative, a certain Mr Collins. Mrs Bennet, therefore, is desperate to see at least two of her daughters married - namely the beautiful Jane, and the attractive, independently-minded Elizabeth. Two pretty and intelligent young women; two rich, eligible men - what could go possibly wrong? Just about everything ...

This is a sparklingly witty, beautifully written and cleverly composed story which is a pleasure to read from start to finish. Elizabeth Bennet is a wonderful creation; Darcy is suitably arrogant, difficult and complex; Mrs Bennet is an absolutely awful, but brilliantly conceived character, who could give masterclasses in how to embarrass one's children; Lady Catherine de Bourgh is wonderfully snobbish and horribly condescending; Elizabeth's cousin, Mr Collins, is a toe-curlingly ingratiating character; and the remainder of the cast add greatly to this superb story.

Romantic, amusing and marvellously entertaining this is a novel to read and reread - but one of the main purposes of this review is to talk about the Kindle Whispersync for Voice combination. If you have a Kindle, do consider buying one of the very reasonably priced Kindle versions and you will then be able to download this audio version for just a couple of pounds (at the time of writing), therefore saving yourself a small fortune. You can switch back and forth between reading the Kindle book and listening to the Audible audiobook without ever losing your place.

I bought the Kindle and audio download combination after buying the lovely new paperback version: Pride and Prejudice as a gift for someone, which gave me the urge to reread my own copy - however not wanting to break off from my current read, I decided to try the audio download and listened to it happily whilst travelling/gardening etc. The audio version I downloaded was ably narrated by Lindsay Duncan, who uses a variety of voices for the different protagonists, but there are other versions available (such as: Pride and Prejudice (Unabridged) narrated by Emilia Fox) and although Jane Austen's wonderful writing speaks for itself, Lindsay Duncan's rendition makes each character come even more alive, making this an entertaining and enjoyable listening experience.

5 Stars.


Pride and Prejudice, Annotated (Penguin Classics)
Pride and Prejudice, Annotated (Penguin Classics)
Price: £1.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful - but if you have a Kindle, do consider the Kindle Whispersync for Voice Combination, 13 Sep 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." So begins Jane Austen's wonderful 'Pride and Prejudice' when the arrival of the wealthy Mr Bingley, and his even wealthier friend, Mr Darcy, causes a stir in the village of Longbourn, and particularly in the Bennet household. Mr and Mrs Bennet have five unmarried daughters, no male heir, and their estate is entailed on a pompous clergyman relative, a certain Mr Collins. Mrs Bennet, therefore, is desperate to see at least two of her daughters married - namely the beautiful Jane, and the attractive, independently-minded Elizabeth. Two pretty and intelligent young women; two rich, eligible men - what could go possibly wrong? Just about everything ...

This is a sparklingly witty, beautifully written and cleverly composed story which is a pleasure to read from start to finish. Elizabeth Bennet is a wonderful creation; Darcy is suitably arrogant, difficult and complex; Mrs Bennet is an absolutely awful, but brilliantly conceived character, who could give masterclasses in how to embarrass one's children; Lady Catherine de Bourgh is wonderfully snobbish and horribly condescending; Elizabeth's cousin, Mr Collins, is a toe-curlingly ingratiating character; and the remainder of the cast add greatly to this superb story.

Romantic, amusing and marvellously entertaining this is a novel to read and reread - but one of the main purposes of this review is to talk about the Kindle Whispersync for Voice combination. If you buy one of the very reasonably priced Kindle versions, you are now able to download one of the audio versions, such as: Pride and Prejudice (Unabridged) for a couple of pounds (at the time of writing), therefore saving yourself a small fortune. You can switch back and forth between reading the Kindle book and listening to the Audible audiobook without ever losing your place.

I bought the Kindle and audio download combination after buying the lovely new paperback version: Pride and Prejudice as a gift for someone, which gave me the urge to reread my own copy - however not wanting to break off from my current read, I decided to try the audio download and listened to it happily whilst travelling/gardening etc. The audio version I downloaded was ably narrated by Lindsay Duncan, who uses a variety of voices for the different protagonists, but there are other versions available (such as: Pride and Prejudice (Unabridged) narrated by Emilia Fox) and although Jane Austen's wonderful writing speaks for itself, Lindsay Duncan's rendition makes each character come even more alive, making this an entertaining and enjoyable listening experience.

5 Stars.


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