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The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon)
The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon)
by Dan Brown
Edition: Paperback

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars So bad it was almost funny... (almost), 2 Aug. 2006
I bought The Da Vinci Code a long time ago and it sat getting dusty on a shelf. After all the media hype, documentaries, magazine articles about tours to visit sites mentioned in the book and then the inevitable film, I knew the plot so well that reading the actual book no longer seemed necessary. However, whenever I heard one of the lengthy and highly irritating radio debates about "the truth" behind the story I want to shout "It's a work of FICTION!!" So I decided to read it so I could be sure I wasn't missing something amazing. I wasn't!

Fortunately it is a quick read. It is possible that I would have disliked it less if I hadn't been so put off by the hype. There are aspects of the story that appeal to me - for example the Christian church did hijack pagan festivals etc. Unfortunately, the few positive elements could not compensate for the dreadful writing style. The first 100 pages were almost unbearable. Dan Brown's initial chapters read as though he typed out a simple outline on his computer and then used the "synonyms" function to insert as many unnecessary adjectives as possible.

I'm glad I read the Da Vinci Code, if only because I now have a right to criticise it!


Dissolution (The Shardlake Series)
Dissolution (The Shardlake Series)
by C. J. Sansom
Edition: Paperback

46 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dissolution, 2 Aug. 2006
This historical crime novel was reasonably enjoyable. The principal character, Shardlake, was the only one I found convincing. I could certainly sense his frustration as he maintained his authority while facing prejudice and tried to find the truth by circumnavigating the many obstacles in his path.

Life in the monastery was described well, with realistic contrast provided between the extravagance of some aspects of the monk's lives (e.g. the lavish dinners while the poor of the nearby village starved) and the hardships they faced (many hours praying/chanting in cold churches). There were one or two other interesting characters - the infirmarian for example, with his Moorish heritage. The other monks, however, were indistinct. Shardlake's internal battle with his reformist principles and his appreciation of the sanctuary and beauty offered (to some) by the monasteries was appealing.

It was not difficult to work out who committed the murder. There are also a few glaringly obvious flaws (did they not have a proof-reading strategy?) in the story. As an example, on one page the author gives one of the monks the wrong name, despite having provided us with a references list of the cast at the beginning of the book! Some parts of the book were very repetitive and it could have been quite a bit shorter without really losing anything. Presumably the repetitious nature of some chapters reflects the reality of detective work but in a work of fiction it is a little tiresome. Some chapters were really interesting and well-written (such as those set in the Tower of London) whereas other chapters would have benefited from another draft. The Quasimodo antics towards the end spoiled an otherwise reasonable read.

I will probably read the sequel in the hope that they have employed better editing.


The Weight Of Water
The Weight Of Water
by Anita Shreve
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weight of Water, 2 Aug. 2006
This review is from: The Weight Of Water (Paperback)
In "The Weight of Water" we are given the story of two women's lives, set many decades apart but linked by the same sense of despair. The historical angle of Maren's story meant that I was fascinated by the chapters describing her life, more so than those in which we learn about Jean. Anita Shreve's vivid descriptions of life in Norway in Maren's time, as well as life facing those who emigrated to the US, brought Maren and her family to life. I found that the contrast between the `modern' and the `old' worked brilliantly, with Jean's more familiar, colloquial style giving the reader a break from the formal prose of Maren.

The story alternates between Maren's account of the murder committed in her time, which she set down in writing and Jean has now uncovered, and Jean's description of her own expedition to the murder site. Both women have problems within their family and the emotional pain suffered by both is palpable. The picture Shreve paints of the island on which the murder takes place in the past, and which Jean now visits to research the history, is truly bleak.

There is no real twist in the tale (it is fairly obvious how Maren's story will end and the events Jean faces are not a surprise either) but this predictability in no way diminished my enjoyment of this book. As with many of Shreve's novels, it is the quality of the descriptive writing that give this book its value. I recommend it highly.


The Wise Woman
The Wise Woman
by Philippa Gregory
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a wise choice!, 2 Aug. 2006
This review is from: The Wise Woman (Paperback)
This is the first book I read by Philippa Gregory. I was hoping for a chunky historical fiction. Unfortunately this book is too long (it was quite an endurance test towards the end). The storyline went round and round in circles and there were no likeable or credible characters. Alys is particularly annoying, which is unfortunate as she is the main character so you are stuck with her throughout. By half way through I was tired of this book and kept reading just for completion sake and to see if it would redeem itself with a good ending. Sadly not.

Alys's dabbling in witchcraft was disappointing, with Gregory depicting it as a cross between Hollywood-style hocus-pocus (with wax dolls coming to life etc) and the common misconception that it is akin to devil worship. In the time the book is set wise women would have been herbalists and midwives. Perhaps the combination of witches and frequent sex scenes were designed to make the book exciting and dangerous but I'm afraid it didn't work.

From the other reviewer's comments it would appear that I have picked perhaps a very bad example of this author's work and will try some of her other books. If, however, you are a Gregory fan thinking of buying this book, don't bother...


Friends, Lovers, Chocolate
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Believable characters and a great story, 2 Aug. 2006
This is a great read!

My reaction to the first book in this series was luke warm, partly because I did not feel that the lead characters had been particularly well developed and partly because the mystery was not sufficiently mysterious! However, this second instalment is a huge improvement and I enjoyed it very much. Isabel was presented as very likeable, honest and intelligent. The way she handles her feelings for Jamie make her seem very real.

There remains a philosophical thread to the story but it was subtle and interesting, as opposed to the rather name-dropping and slightly pretentious style of the first book. The storyline in "Friends, Lovers and Chocolate" is original and reflects recent scientific study into the unexpected effects of transplantation on the recipient. You get a real sense of excitement as the mystery unfolds.

The story moves along quickly enough to satisfy your need to know what happens next yet does not rush along like a cheap crime thriller. It shows intelligence but not affectation. If you are a fan of Mr McCall Smith I recommend that you read this book, regardless of whether you enjoyed "The Sunday Philosophy Club".


Gentlemen & Players
Gentlemen & Players
by Joanne Harris
Edition: Hardcover

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Check mate, 29 Nov. 2005
This review is from: Gentlemen & Players (Hardcover)
The excellent Joanne Harris gave us ‘Chocolat’ cravings, intoxicated us with ‘Blackberry Wine’, entwined history and betrayal in ‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ and continued to enthral us with themes of magic and love in ‘Holy Fools’. Anyone who has read her earlier novel ‘Sleep, Pale Sister’ will be fully aware of Harris’s ability to write a very dark tale.
The new novel ‘Gentlemen and Players’ is another spellbinding offering, with a real twist (throughout the book I knew there was a twist coming but I was still startled by its simplicity and brilliance).
Harris’s earlier work are characterised by evocative description, sensual themes and magical overtones, while ‘Gentlemen and Players’ is written in a more “factual”, drier manner, which reflects the fact that it is told in part from teachers' perspectives. It is a brilliant read and the ending does not disappoint. The presentation of the chapters under the titles of chess pieces is a very nice touch. I highly recommend this and Harris’s earlier books.


Coast: A Celebration of Britain's Coastal Heritage
Coast: A Celebration of Britain's Coastal Heritage
by Christopher Somerville
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.49

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars You have to love the coast!, 29 Sept. 2005
I caught only a few episodes of the TV series and it left me wanting more. Our coast is amazing - there are few things more powerful in destruction and beauty than the sea and our little island's coast is incredibly varied and vulnerable yet strong.
I was surprised by how little text there is in this book. The pictures, on the other hand, are plentiful and good quality. The writing is really there to provide information about the pictures, and the photos are really what I want when I buy this sort of book.
Although the TV series did perhaps do more to capture the imagination, it has the advantages of moving pictures and of sound. The book is worth having as an addition to your coffee table reading. Certainly anyone who hails from a coastal region will want to read "their bit"!


The Pilot's Wife
The Pilot's Wife
by Anita Shreve
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Pilot's Wife, 29 Sept. 2005
This review is from: The Pilot's Wife (Paperback)
Having previously read "Fortune's Rocks", "The Last Time They Met" and "Sea Glass" I was keen to read more of Anita Shreve's books. They are well-written with beautiful imagery.
Unfortunately I was not so impressed with The Pilot's Wife, primarily because the ending was predictable. I read the book very quickly, not because it was one of those can't-put-it-down novels but because I wanted to prove myself right after guessing what Kathryn's husband had been up to. This was a little annoying.
However, I must also say that Shreve has real talent when it comes to putting the emotional turmoil of her characters into words; Kathryn's grief and her subsequent feelings of betrayal and shock are skilfully communicated. I was disappointed at how little I enjoyed this particular story but I will certainly continue with Shreve's work because some of her other books are real gems.


Crawling At Night
Crawling At Night
by Nani Power
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Crawling at night, 14 Aug. 2005
This review is from: Crawling At Night (Paperback)
In this debut novel from Nani Power we follow two lonely people - one a sushi chef and the other a waitress. Both suffer the effects of emotional damage left over from past tragedies. Power's description of each character insinuates their vulnerability; they are two lost souls bumbling along as best they can. Mariane, the waitress, tries to drown her sorrow in drink, while Ito, the chef, attempts to offer her help but is too lost himself to save her. Power's sensitive writing means that this story, which is sad, is nevertheless engaging and occasionally funny.
Power has the ability to depict her characters so effectively that we feel their sorrow and helplessness. I was left with the impression that, rather than having read a work of fiction, I had briefly studied a chunk of Ito and Mariane's diaries, saw a little of their lives and then stepped back into my own. Anyone who lives in a city (the novel is set in New York) will realise that we pass briefly into many other people's lives every day, but then instantly dismiss them from our minds, leaving them to drift along their own path as we go along ours. This book reminds us that we are all part of one large web. It is not the most exciting book I have read this year, but it is certainly worth a look.


The Lady and the Unicorn
The Lady and the Unicorn
by Tracy Chevalier
Edition: Hardcover

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ladies, unicorns and a leacherous tapestry designer!, 11 Aug. 2005
Tracy Chevalier is a brilliant storyteller. In The Lady and the Unicorn, just as in Girl with a Pearl Earing, she uses a real work of art as the basis for a fictional story. We are presented with the contrasting home life of a family of tapestry weavers (poor but cheerful and busy) and the Le Vistes in their castle (wealthy but depressed and tedious). You might think the plot sounds fairly twee and predictable, but in fact the story is absorbing. Nicolas is a rogue but I liked him anyway, if only for bringing excitement, repressed though it may be in some cases, into the lives of the women. The oppression of the richer women was striking.
Chevalier's powers of description are superb - she makes it possible for her reader to step back in time. Although the book is set in medieval times, the historical detail is not too overwhelming. The story unfolds at a gentle pace, making it a relaxing read.


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