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Ingaborga (London, UK)

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Kiss And Tell
Kiss And Tell
by Fiona Walker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A welcome return to form, 18 April 2011
This review is from: Kiss And Tell (Paperback)
I approached this with trepidation after a run of frankly disappointing novels from Fiona Walker. But this romped back up to the heights of her first four novels (after which it all went down hill). I devoured this in about three days - the characters were fantastic, the plot pacey, the writing witty and fun - in short it was everything chick lit should inspire to. Let's hope she keeps it up for the next one.

Her Fearful Symmetry
Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing failure to live up to its promise, 11 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Her Fearful Symmetry (Paperback)
This book had great promise. A dark, sinister tale involving fragile, ethereal twins, a haunted Victorian house, a cemetery and deep dark secret - it had all the makings of a hugely satisfying example of the modern Gothic. Audrey Niffenegger has impressive pedigree - her first novel, The Time Travellers' Wife, with its winning blend of whimsy and was the book du jour a few years ago, never far from the top of the bestseller list, and the darling of book clubs across the country.

The story, in different hands, could have been a huge success. Two identical twins, Julia and Valentina, are bequeathed a flat overlooking Highgate Cemetary by their dead aunt Elspeth (who happens to be their mother's identical twin sister) on the condition that their parents never set foot in the flat. The reason for this stipulation, the love affair between Robert and Elspeth, and of course the history of the cemetery play an enormous part in the book. So what went wrong? Well the language for a start. Niffenegger fell in to the trap of giving all the English characters that overly quaint, old fashioned dialogue used by American writers when they want to create a bit of local colour. The idea of London as a place where people travel by minicabs on a regular basis and the tube stations have ridiculous names. Then there was the subplot of Martin and Marijke - a sweet love story of the girl leaves boy, boy overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles, boy gets girl back genre which was easily my favourite part of the book, but completely, jarringly out of place. And, of course, the deep, dark secret and the actions taken by Elspeth and Valentina which completely fail to live up to the darkness Niffenegger spends so much time hinting at.

But finally, sadly, the real flaw lies with Niffenegger herself. The Time Traveller's Wife was - and is - one of my favourite books. As a creator of quirky, original love stories, Niffenegger is without rival. But she just lacks the ability to ratchet up the tension and really draw the reader into the dark, twisted world the plot keeps hinting at. A shame, because I could have really enjoyed this...

The Best of Times
The Best of Times
by Penny Vincenzi
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Certainly not the best of times, 13 Sept. 2009
This review is from: The Best of Times (Hardcover)
I was thrilled when I found the new Penny Vincenzi at the library and could hardly wait to get it home and read. I half wish I'd never stumbled across it. I've read all of her books and I can say without doubt that this is very, very far from her best. Even I, one of her biggest fans, would have to admit that her writing is formulaic at best, but it's what she does with the formula - be it a marriage in crisis, lovers separated by some twist of fate, illness, death, even sex - that makes her books so readable. Not so with the utterly inappropriately named 'The Best of Times'. The plot, which hinges on a major pile up on the M4, is feeble, the action scatterdash, her writing uncharacteristically poor, the dialogue clunky... In all, it felt rushed, writing by numbers - as if she grabbed some cliches from the plot conveyor belt and added a handful of characters straight out of central casting. I gave it two stars because I didn't hate it so much that I couldn't finish it, but I'm certainly glad that I didn't waste the money buying it.

The Island
The Island
by Victoria Hislop
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.84

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A terrible, terrible book, 30 Mar. 2009
This review is from: The Island (Paperback)
My goodness this is a bad book.

The plot is just about bearable, if a little hackneyed - young woman on holiday uncovers a terrible family secret, learning a little bit about herself along the way, blah blah blah. Certainly there was enough of interest to con me into reading until the end, rather than chucking it away after the first couple of chapters (which had been my first instinct.)

The writing, on the other hand, is TERRIBLE - stuffed to the gills with painfully trite expressions ("bitter as an unripe olive" made me want to heave) and each endless descriptive paragraph - about Greek wedding/christening rituals, life on a leper colony, etc - made me die a little inside. The characters were one dimensional, thoroughly unsympathetic, their actions little more than flimsy devices for moving the plot along.

In the hands of a better writer this could have been what the reviewers so tantalisingly promised - a beach read with a heart. Instead, it's four days of my literary life I'm never going to get back. I'm all for the Richard and Judy book club - they've picked out some pretty good books in their time, and anything that gets more people reading is a good thing in my view. But when they get it wrong, they really get it wrong, and this terrible tome is one such example.

The Book Thief
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heart warming and heart breaking in almost equal measure, 1 Jun. 2008
This review is from: The Book Thief (Paperback)
The eponymous book thief is Liesel Meminger, a young girl whose mother takes her to Munich to live with a foster family on the eve of the Second World War. On the journey to Munich, two things happen. First, her brother dies. Second, Liesel steals a book at his graveside - a manual for grave diggers. Not the most appropriate of texts for a twelve year old girl, but it awakens in Liesel a love of books - and perhaps more importantly, a skill for stealing books.

The Book Thief is narrated by Death, who tells the story of Liesel, her family and her friends. The narrative style has a lightness of touch that is pleasantly surprising given the weight of the subject matter. The characters are vividly drawn, rough and occasionally brutal yet each of them capable of acts of great tenderness, generosity and love.

If I had to find fault with this, it would be the occasionally clunky use of a German phrase followed by an English translation, but overall, this is a wonderful book, and I defy anyone not to be moved by it.

The Tenderness of Wolves
The Tenderness of Wolves
by Stef Penney
Edition: Paperback

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 2006 must have been a very poor year for books, 17 May 2008
The Tenderness of Wolves is yet another reason why one should never trust the committees of literary prizes such as the Costa Book of the Year awards, which this won in 2006. Set in the wilds of Canada during the late nineteenth century, the book starts with the brutal murder of a French Canadian trader. When all signs seem to point towards her son, Katherine Ross sets out on a treacherous journey through the wilderness to clear his name.

So far, so so. From a vaguely promising start - the murder sends shockwaves through the tiny communities of Dove River and Caulfield, uncovering all sorts of long buried secrets and fissures within the community - the plot manages to become both thin and convoluted. Whenever the action seems to get a little stale, Penney sends another set of characters out into the vast, deserted, snowbound landscapes, or chooses to put a different minor character at the forefront of the narrative. The constant changes in narrative are both annoying and frustrating, switching from the Mrs Ross in the first person to pretty much anyone we have come across. The writing is trite and formulaic, with endless subplots and memories - each less convincing than the last - thrown willy nilly into the mix, and frequently left unresolved.

I gave this two stars because, unlike a one star book, I didn't feel the urge to hurl it out of the window as soon as I'd finished it, and the descriptions of the wilderness were quite remarkable. Also, she gets a sympahy vote for triumphing over adversity - Penney was (is?) an agoraphobic who has never been to Canada. But I'd choke on my words if I recommended this even to someone I didn't particularly like. My advice? Don't bother.

Wise Children
Wise Children
by Angela Carter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.77

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great fun, 7 May 2008
This review is from: Wise Children (Paperback)
Wise Children is a bawdy, hilarious romp through the history of the Hazard family. The irrepressible narrator, Dora Chance, one of identical twins and half of the Lucky Chances, takes us on a whirlwind tour of this great theatrical dynasty.

Skeletons tumble out of the closet, with illegitimate twins, dubious paternity, and a questionable approach to incest jostling for space on the pages. Born on the wrong side of the blanket, the fortunes of Dora and her sister, Nora, are nevertheless inextricably linked to the "legitimate" branch of the family, from their close relationship with thier uncle, Peregrine, to their big theatrical and Hollywood breaks. Parallels are also drawn between the "legitimate" or high cultural world inhabited by their father, Melchior, and the vulgar, low class music halls and pantos that earn the Lucky Chances their crust. Only Peregrine seems to have the ability to move effortlessly between the two worlds.

No one could deny that the plot is a little far fetched at times. But the characters are hugely enjoyable, whether you love them or you hate them, and the narrative, spanning over a century, whips along at an irresistable pace, conjuring up evocative portraits of the eras it crosses. It's bawdy, comical, rip-roaring fun - just don't take it any more seriously than it takes itself!

by Ian McEwan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly enjoyable, 29 April 2008
This review is from: Saturday (Paperback)
Reading Ian McEwan novels is a bit of a double edged sword for me. I admire his writing and his style of prose; his plots are original and intellectually stimulating. But his characters - and ultimately his plots - are generally unsympathetic, focusing on the gloomier, more depressing aspects of human life, and generally their endings are at best ambivalent, at worst downright unhappy.

Saturday, therefore, is unusual in that its protagonist, Henry Perowne, is a man who is content with his lot. A happily married neurosurgeon with two successful, creative children, a superb house in central London and a rather nice car, we first encounter Perowne as something rouses him before dawn on a Saturday in mid-February. He witnesses a mid-air plane accident that, to his post-9/11 mind seems indisputably to be an act of terrorism. Even though it turns out not to be anything of the sort, terrorism and the soon to be waged war on terror are never far from his mind as we follow him through his day. McEwan bravely allows Perowne to voice some unpopular opinions about the war against Iraq, showing us that war is never black and white and encouraging us to question our own assumptions of what is right and what is wrong.

The majority of the novel is told as a sort of stream of consciousness, and to me there was an element of Mrs Dalloway about it - particularly in his encounter with Baxter, an aggressive young man who threatens Perowne and all he holds dear, and who reminded me in a way of Septimus, the troubled young man in Mrs Dalloway. Not much happens - Perowne plays squash; Perowne goes to the fishmongers; Perowne visits his mother. Some might find this dull, but it's the inner life of his protagonist that's important here, and it's easy to get lulled into almost a trancelike state as we follow Perowne's thoughts. That's why the occasional violent encounters - the fiery plane cutting through the night sky; the confrontation with Baxter; a fierce argument over a squash point; a heated debate about the war - seem all the more shocking, jolting us out of our enjoyment of Perowne's reverie.

Star of the Sea
Star of the Sea
by Joseph O'Connor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.16

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable froth, 21 April 2008
This review is from: Star of the Sea (Paperback)
Star of the Sea is a good old fashioned tale of adventure and romance on the high seas. Most of the passengers of the eponymous ship are fleeing Ireland, a country brought to its knees by potato blight and famine, for a new life in America, the promised land. In the first class cabins, aristocrats, servants and writers play out their own personal dramas, while down below in steerage, a mysterious club footed passenger roams the decks, contemplating the terrible choice he has before him. The ship's captain, Lockwood, fills in many of the gaps with his matter of fact Captain's Log.

Much of the story is told in flashbacks, as we learn more about teh characters' past lives and the events that led up to their decision to sail to America. Lord Merridith's privileged life is sharply contrasted with the grinding poverty of the Irish peasants. No holds are barred in O'Connor's descriptions of the degradations they suffered in order to survive.

It's a gripping yarn in places, a nicely inconsequential page turner that rips satisfyingly along to its conclusion. Where it fails is, occasionally, in the characters' voices - Merridith's somewhat affected, aristocratic speech is sometimes uneasily grafted upon other characters. The frequent references to "Chas" Dickens are irritating at best and frankly ridiculous at worst. And the ending, while overlong, is frustratingly vague, discursive and inconclusive. But if you're looking for a fun, forgettable way to while away the time, this novel should do the job.

Beau Brummell
Beau Brummell
by Ian Kelly
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and educational - can't recommend it highly enough, 8 April 2008
This review is from: Beau Brummell (Paperback)
With this biography of Beau Brummell, Ian Kelly has achieved that rarest of things - a biography which is unputdownable. In Kelly's hands, the story of Beau Brummell - son of a civil servant in Lord North's regime, a boy of humble origins who made briefly made good before ending his days ravaged by syphilis in a French lunatic assylum - is more readable than any novel I've read in the last few months. The rise and fall of Beau Brummell is described with wit, charm and verve - in short, with all the trademarks of the Beau himself. Beyond this, Kelly has produced an in-depth description of one of the most fascinating ages in our history - the tail end of the 18th Century and the lavish excesses of the Regency period.

Parallels between Brummell and any one of our current celebrities, who are famous merely for dressing nicely and going to parties, are subtly drawn but inescapable. Of course, Brummell had more class in his fingernail than Paris Hilton, say, could even dream of achieving, and the style of dressing that he pioneered will surely outlive any of our modern starlets with their gigantic sunglasses and tiny chihauhaus. But for a cautionary lesson in the transitory nature of fame, our 21st Century It girls and boys could do worse than look to poor Beau Brummell.

Be that as it may, this book is a must read for anyone with even the slightest interest in fame, fashion or British social history. You won't be disappointed.

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