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EL (England)

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The Little Women Letters
The Little Women Letters
Price: £1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth it if you know the original, 25 Jan 2014
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If you haven't read Little Women, then I would imagine The Little Women Letters doesn't make a huge amount of sense - certainly a lot of the nuances would be lost.

But if you're one of the huge number of people for whom, like me, Louisa May Alcott's book and its sequels was an unforgettable part of childhood, this won't disappoint.

I really liked how Donnelly re-imagined letters from Jo to her sisters, based partly on events from the original novel. These give an insight into her character, and in my opinion at least are more or less in keeping with the Jo March of the original. The modern day characters - 3 sisters, with unsurprising similarities to Meg, Jo and Amy - are all likeable in their own way, and Lulu who is in a lot of ways the 'updated version' of Jo, is easy to relate to.

This isn't a deep, meaningful or challenging read; it's a book for a rainy afternoon when you want to curl up with a story based on characters you already know. Not to mention that after reading this, it would be hard to resist going back and re-reading Little Women all over again.


CAULDSTANE
CAULDSTANE
Price: £1.91

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you live in fear, you fear to live, 25 Jan 2014
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This review is from: CAULDSTANE (Kindle Edition)
When Jenny accepts the job of ghostwriting a famous explorer's autobiography - and living in his ancestral castle, Cauldstane, in the Highlands of Scotland with the family while she writes - she has no idea what she's let herself in for. Sholto McNab has led a long, colourful, but not always happy life. His son Alec is to inherit Cauldstane, but only if the family can find a way to hang onto their home against financial and other more sinister pressures. As Jenny learns more about the McNabs she discovers a family who have suffered tragedy and loss, but who remain united and unbroken in the face of fear.

The highlight of Linda Gillard's latest novel, for me, was the character of Sholto. He isn't the 'hero' of the novel in a traditional sense, but even in his seventies the Laird seems larger than life. Jenny's book is about his experiences and adventures, so naturally we learn a lot about the family and its history as she interviews the Laird.

His eldest son Alec is at once the most traumatised by the family's past and, as Cauldstane's heir, the most invested in its future. A flawed hero he may be, but a very human one. As ever Gillard's characters are well-drawn, but most importantly they are believable and easy to empathise with. The castle is a big part of the story and a character in its own right, as the setting is in many of the author's books.

In essence "Cauldstane" is a contemporary take on a sort of gothic suspense/romance/country-house mystery format which many readers may be familiar with. It's hard to define the genre exactly, and I couldn't do the book justice if I tried, but suffice to say there is mystery, romance, suspense, gothic elements and even the supernatural. If you have ever read Mary Stewart's books, then this is in the same vein and just as addictive and enjoyable. Linda Gillard's novels all tend to be different from the last, but the common themes of believable and slightly older protagonists, flawed-but-irresistible heroes, and an atmospheric setting are all very much present here.

I loved "Cauldstane", and finished it within hours because once started I couldn't bear to put it down. Very highly recommended, along with Gillard's earlier novels. "Untying the Knot" is still my absolute favourite, and is a natural fit with "Cauldstane" in terms of characters' difficult pasts continuing to affect the present. Gillard is and will remain one of the authors whose books I 'auto-buy' as soon as they appear on Amazon, and "Cauldstane" is well worthy of it.


Eleven
Eleven
Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, 7 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Eleven (Kindle Edition)
I really enjoyed this, although I wasn't sure initially that I would. The novel tells the story of eleven inter-connected people living in London, all with very different lives and personal backgrounds. I liked the ways in which these characters' lives linked up and affected each other, as well as that of the main character Xavier.

Mark Watson is a comedian I have seen on various TV programmes, but although this book was enjoyable and amusing in parts I'm not sure I would have guessed the author was a comedian if I hadn't already known. It certainly doesn't contain gratuitous humour or jokes that are misplaced and irrelevant to the storyline as is sometimes the case with writers trying too hard to be funny.

Instead the characters are endearing and for the most part likeable or at least empathetic. I would certainly be interested in reading for from this author.

A good, entertaining and fairly easy read.


The Firebird
The Firebird
Price: £4.19

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something Old and Something New, 5 Feb 2013
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This review is from: The Firebird (Kindle Edition)
I've read all of Susanna Kearsley's books, and so far although I have particular favourites she's never written one I didn't like. The reviewer before me claims that this is 'over researched', but I have to completely disagree. One of the things I love about Kearsley's novels is the research that goes into them and which helps to make them seem so much more realistic.

In this case I was fascinated by the links between the Jacobites and Russia - something I previously knew nothing whatsoever about. It's the meticulous research into the real people who populate this book that makes it stand out. The weaving of fictional characters into known events in the lives of real historical figures is so cleverly done, it's hard to remember where fact and fiction divide.

Yes, it does help enormously if you've already read Sophia's Secret (also known as The Winter Sea, which is a far better and more relevant title in my opinion). The Firebird is a sequel of sorts and although you could read it without any knowledge of Sophia's Secret, the characters have a lot more depth if you read the two in the right order. Various favourite characters are back (including one who had a smaller part in The Shadowy Horses, another Kearsley title), and I was interested to see the continuation of storylines I hadn't even really considered before.

As with most 'time-slip' books, the action is divided between past and present. Nicola and Rob travel from modern England and Scotland on to Belgium and Russia trying to find out about the firebird of the title, and in doing so they become intrigued by Anna, the woman who owned it hundreds of years earlier and who led a life that was anything but ordinary.

This is a novel primarily about women and from their point of view, although the male characters also have depth and believability. There is the usual romance, in both time periods, and you really get the sense that these are characters that the author cares about and wants the reader to fall in love with (which I certainly did!). Another brilliant read, and I'm already looking forward to the next one.


THE GLASS GUARDIAN
THE GLASS GUARDIAN
Price: £1.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't Put It Down!, 3 Jun 2012
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Some books are just perfect for a rainy Sunday afternoon curled up in an armchair with a mug of tea. 'The Glass Guardian', the latest from Linda Gillard (whose previous books I have read and loved without exception), is one of them. But it's not just a light-hearted read; I found this book both thought-provoking and strangely comforting. I ended up reading it from cover to cover (well, metaphorically, on my Kindle) in a single sitting as I couldn't bear to put it down for more than a few moments.

The Glass Guardian deals to some extent with themes of loss and the dark roads that life sometimes leads us down. Yet it isn't a depressing book, rather the contrary. It has a strong focus on the importance of friends and loved ones in combatting loneliness, not forgetting of course the healing powers of love in its many guises. Ruth is a woman in her early 40s, who has inherited a dilapidated house in a beautiful setting on the Isle of Skye. She spends time there while she decides what to do about the house, delving into the history of Tigh na Linne ('the house by the pool') as well as learning more about her aunt and other family members who used to call it home.

It's a difficult book to review without giving away hints of the plot, which would be unforgivable. So suffice to say that I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good read, whether you think you're a fan of 'supernatural' stories or not. In fact I often stay clear of books with that label, but this is by no means typical of the genre, and in my opinion completely transcends the stereotype.

The Glass Guardian made me want to visit Skye and see the amazing backdrop of this book for myself. Highly recommended!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2012 4:32 PM BST


The Amber Heart
The Amber Heart
Price: £3.60

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Judge this by its beautiful cover!, 29 April 2012
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This review is from: The Amber Heart (Kindle Edition)
I recently read and loved Catherine Czerkawska's earlier novel, 'The Curiosity Cabinet', so when I saw that this had just been published I downloaded it straightaway.

This is a very different story, and on the face of it, much less within my realm of interests. After all I know next to nothing about Poland, especially in the mid-19th century. Yet within a few pages that didn't matter in the slightest, and I found myself drawn into this sweeping tale of love, lust, loss and most of all life. 'The Amber Heart' is an ambitious story, spanning decades and generations, but all revolving around the central character of Maryanna, who is a woman of noble birth but not the least bit conventional.

Maryanna and Piotro are in some ways the 'Cathy and Heathcliff' of the novel, but their story is so much more complex. One is the daughter of a wealthy Polish landowning family, the other the son of penniless Ukrainians working for the estate. Yet their tumultuous childhoods are something that they have in common, and fate leads them to cross paths repeatedly.

This isn't an easy, gentle book - it's a rollercoaster of events and emotions. It reminded me of traditional folk tales; the type of thing I used to read as a child, albeit that this is certainly a version for adults, with the added complications of the politics, conflicts and social etiquette of the time. It has that old-fashioned feel about it and the characters seem almost familiar, as though this is an old, old story that is being re-told for a modern audience. If I had to put a label on it I would describe it as a `family saga', but it's really not the type of novel that sits neatly in one narrow category.

I gather from her website that the author already has a sequel to `The Amber Heart' in the works, as well as a novel set in Scotland, and I'm already looking forward to reading both of those once they're available.


The Curiosity Cabinet
The Curiosity Cabinet
Price: £2.63

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very glad I stumbled across this, 19 April 2012
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There are so many brilliant ebooks out there just waiting to be discovered. It's frustrating trawling through book after forgettable book looking for the real gems, but it's more than worth it when every now and then you find a story like this one.

On the face of it The Curiosity Cabinet is actually two stories. One set in present-day Scotland following Alys, a woman with a young son who returns to the island where she used to spend holidays as a young child. The other half of the book is set on the same island of Garve 300 years before, focusing on Manus McNeill who was the laird of the island, and a young woman named Henrietta who ends up there as a prisoner of sorts.

With virtually every other novel I have read which is set in multiple time periods with more than one set of characters I have a firm favourite, and sometimes even read as quickly as I can through the sections I like less to get to the next chapter with my preferred characters. But with The Curiosity Cabinet I found myself equally interested in both stories and the events unfolding. The chapters alternate between present and past, with the modern-day chapters written in the present tense. At first I thought this would be jarring, but I quickly got used to it and found the change in tense and style helpful to distinguish between the two halves of the book.

In reality though, despite the 300 years that divide them, the two halves do in many ways form one larger story. The present-day story is grounded in the history of the characters and events that came before. Both are love stories, but that by no means sums up all they have to offer. The author creates a world with such a strong sense of place (despite the fact that Garve is an imaginary island) that we care nearly as much about the history and stories of the place as we do about the connections between the couples who fall in love there.

Czerkawska's style is hard to describe without using the word 'lyrical', which always seems like such an exaggeration that I tend not to believe the hype when I hear it used to describe books, but the poetical feel of The Curiosity Cabinet is difficult to describe in any other way. I enjoyed this book so much that I have already downloaded her latest novel The Amber Heart to my Kindle, and from the few pages I've read so far I'm going to love that too.


The Philanthropist's Danse
The Philanthropist's Danse
Price: £2.05

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant ideas, but careless in places, 5 Mar 2012
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I came across this in the download chart when it was free a few days ago, and was immediately intrigued by the storyline. In essence, the concept of a remote country house whose inhabitants are stuck there whether they like it or not while a mystery plays out, has been done before (in a lot of ways this book reminded me of an Agatha Christie novel brought into the present day, albeit set in the States rather than the UK).

Although the scenario is of course deliberately far-fetched - and the dubious legality of the proceedings is ignored - none of that really matters since you get swept up in the story and the characters so quickly. For a first novel, the sheer number of characters, all of whom have individual personalities and subplots, is really impressive. In a book of this sort where it is very much an ensemble cast sometimes characters can seem hastily sketched, but in this case I felt as though I had a really strong sense of each person's character. This also grows and changes as the book progresses and we discover more layers to many of the characters.

The way that the eponymous philanthropist's invitees fight for their potential inheritances feels very real, and the portrayal of human greed throughout the book is entirely believable. The various twists, turns and pitfalls along the way keeps you guessing as to exactly what the outcome is going to be, and who will walk away with a share of the money.

Where I thought the book was weakest - and perhaps to some extent this is a symptom of it being a first novel - was the writing style. The content was excellent, but every now and then a clumsy sentence or an omitted word would jolt me out of the story. I think perhaps I'm pickier than many readers with this sort of thing, but typos and sentences with words missing or duplicated can be frustrating if they pop up enough to distract from the book. I think this could have benefited from a closer proof-reader to be honest - although believe me, it's not nearly as bad as a lot of other Kindle offerings!

Overall I really enjoyed The Philanthropist's Danse and read it in virtually one sitting, which is always a good sign of a gripping story. This is an excellent Kindle read that I would thoroughly recommend to someone looking for a modern mystery story with a hint of the old-fashioned 'country house mystery' about it. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for more books from this author in the future.


The Mill River Recluse
The Mill River Recluse

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ultimately rather sweet, 19 Dec 2011
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I liked the look of this book (beautiful cover design!), and for the price I thought it was well worth a try.

I didn't have particularly high hopes, but as I read on I gradually found myself being drawn into the story and the town of Mill River. Perhaps the way I would describe it is that there is nothing 'exceptional' about this book, but it's none the worse for that. It's an easy, comforting read with characters who are recognisable as inhabitants of just about any town. Each secondary character has their own effect on the plot, and to some extent their own separate storylines taking place. But they are all linked by Mary, the eponymous recluse who lives high above the town, watching unseen everything that takes place in Mill River.

Mary's backstory is interspersed with what is taking place in the present, and this is a necessary device to show us how she became so reclusive, and what her motivations are.

Although this book wasn't necessarily one that will stay with me for a long time, I did enjoy it while I was reading, and I'm glad I took a chance on it. I found the final scenes a lot more emotional than I expected, which proves that I did connect with the story and care about the characters, especially Father O'Brien who just can't resist stealing spoons!

Overall I would say that this is a lovely read for a quiet winter's evening when you want to curl up in the warm with an easy book and be transported into a different world.


The Perfect Hero (Austen Addicts)
The Perfect Hero (Austen Addicts)
Price: £0.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very 'obvious' chick-lit, 30 Sep 2011
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If you're looking for something very light and easy, then you'll probably enjoy this book. But there really is very little depth or detail to the plot or the characters.

It's a perfectly harmless story, which would work well if you want cheering up without having to use any brain-power, but personally I ended up getting pretty frustrated by how cliched each and every character and plotline was. Most books of this type are fairly predictable - i.e. you know that chick-lit is almost certainly going to have a happy ending. The interesting part is finding out how the characters get there.

But in this case, I felt irritated by the shallowness of several of the characters (particularly Kay, who was quite hard to like, despite being the main heroine), and it was just a case of waiting for the inevitable.

The 3 stars are mostly for the setting - Lyme Regis was described very well, and it was easily to imagine the Cobb and all the landmarks where the actors are filming.

Overall though, this is definitely nothing more than a beach book.


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