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Charliecat (Oxfordshire, UK)

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Homesick
Homesick
by Roshi Fernando
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Homesick, 12 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Homesick (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Homesick is a novel made up of a collection of 17 short stories all inter-related. All the stories come together to tell the story of a community of Sri Lankan immigrants and their troubles living in the British community. Roshi Fernando is an assured and confident writer and for a debut novel Homesick is very good. Homesick asks some piercing questions about the life and treatment of immigrants in the UK.

However, although the writing is intelligent and competent, I failed to feel attached to any of the characters, which is a shame because I really wanted to enjoy this novel. The characters recur throughtout the stories so we find out what happens to them but because they flit in and out of the story I didn't feel I had long enough to connect to them in the way I should have. A clever and perceptive novel but not a novel I could fall in love with.


The Best of Everything (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Best of Everything (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Rona Jaffe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly enjoyable!, 18 Aug. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Written in 1958, The Best of Everything, has been republished after featuring in an episode of Mad Men. I'm so glad that it has been reissued because I enjoyed every minute of it. It traces the fortunes of four young women who arrive in the city looking for love, a career and the life experiences that New York has to offer.

Caroline Bender, a graduate of Radcliffe college, arrives in New York after a broken engagement determined to leave the typing pool and become an editor at the publishing house where all the girls work at some point in the novel. April Morrison, a naive girl from the Midwest, finds herself falling for a cad. Barbara Lemont is a single parent living with her mother after the break-up of her marriage wondering if anyone will marry her and take on another man's child and Gregg Adams is an aspiring actress who loses her heart and her mind over a man who cannot return her affections.

The Best of Everything is a brilliant read, well written, with well drawn and interesting characters. It's a sort of Sex and the City in the 50s and no less obsessed with love, sex and careers for that. The women suffer sleazy bosses, bad dates, dead-end jobs, good sex, bad sex, abortions, and true love. Although the main goal of most women in the novel is to settle down and marry this is hardly surprising for a novel written in the 50s and the girls' experiences are little different from young single women's experiences now.


Liesl & Po
Liesl & Po
by Lauren Oliver
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Liesl and Po bring colour to the world., 16 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Liesl & Po (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Liesl and Po is a lovely and lyrical children's story. Set in a strange other-world where it is always dark and nothing ever grows Liesl lives in an attic bedroom. Kept there by her evil stepmother ,after the death of her beloved father, Liesl is lonely. One night Liesl is visited by Po and Bundle, two ghosts, and she glimpses the other world and a way out of her attic existence. She also wants to scatter her father's ashes at the Red House where they were last happy together.

Meanwhile Will, an alchemist's apprentice, makes a mistake by mixing up two very important boxes and sets in motion a chain of events which changes the world forever. Liesl, Po, and Will are thrown together on an amazing journey trying to set the world to rights.

The cast of characters in Liesl and Po are well-drawn and the story is engaging, I especially liked the loveable guard Mo and his cat Lefty. The pictures are charming and really help to bring the story alive. The idea of bringing colour and life back to a world which is grey and dull (especially after grief) is a wonderful image and Liesl and Po is rich in laughter, fantasy and the magic of friendship and love.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children)
by Ransom Riggs
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.78

48 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Curiouser and curiouser...., 28 July 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children is from start to finish a fantastic young adult novel. Ransom Riggs has written one of the most original and inventive debuts I've ever read.

It follows the story of American teenager Jacob who journeys to a small, remote Welsh island to discover the secrets of his grandfather's childhood. He comes across the ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children but soon learns that not everything is quite as it seems and things start to become ever so peculiar. Interspersed with genuine vintage photographs which Ransom Riggs seems to have used to build a story around it is a truly bizarre but brilliant reading experience. The photos add a chilling otherworldly feeling to the novel and really helps the story to come alive in a new way.

By turns frightening, fascinating and amusing I would recommend it to adults and young people alike as an excellent new voice in children's fiction.


A Book for All and None
A Book for All and None
by Dr Clare Morgan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Maybe not for all., 5 July 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A Book for All and None is a complex novel interweaving many different strands, ideas and voices. The main story revolves around the relationship between Beatrice Kopus, who is in Oxford studying Virginia Woolf, and the aging don Raymond Greatorex who is researching Nietzsche. Beatrice and Raymond meet in Oxford and embark on an affair. Beatrice Kopus is certain that she has discovered a link between Virginia Woolf, Nietzsche and the woman who entranced him, Louise von Salome.

The story of Louise von Salome, Nietzsche and Woolf becomes entangled with Beatrice and Raymond's story, as well as a thread about Raymond's childhood and ancestral home in Wales. All these stories are confusing enough but there is also the story of Beatrice Kopus's husband, the high-flying Walter Cronk, and his suburban mistress Julie.

For me, Walter's story and Walter's character are the most interesting. Walter is a businessman whose business, CronkAm, is slowly crumbling around his ears. He seems to me to be the most sympathetic character. I failed to find Beatrice and Raymond's story that interesting and the strands which include Virginia Woolf and Nietzsche are too self-consciously literary to be really appealing.
Overall the novel, although competantly written, lacks unity and I'm sorry to say I found quite a lot of it just a bit on the dull side.


The Ghost of Lily Painter
The Ghost of Lily Painter
by Caitlin Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Ghost of Lily Painter, 1 July 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Ghost of Lily Painter is a sweet novel set in the early Edwardian period and the present day. In the present day Annie Sweet falls in love with an old house and quickly buys it and moves in with her husband and daughter.

Whilst her own life starts to unravel Annie begins to delve into the lives of the past inhabitants of 43 Stanley Road. She begins to sense that ghosts haunt the old house and she must discover what has happened there so many years ago. The most intriguing past inhabitant is the young chorus girl, Lily Painter. Annie searches into the Edwardian history of the house and discovers dark secrets and scandal.

Davies' novel is a light read, despite it's subject matter, and quite engaging. The story, although somewhat predictable, is entertaining and the characters are likable if a little one-dimensional. Essentially a simple and interesting read about a rich and fascinating period in the past.


The Somnambulist
The Somnambulist
by Essie Fox
Edition: Hardcover

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not very spellbinding..., 30 May 2011
This review is from: The Somnambulist (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I was looking forward to reading The Somnambulist because I'm partial to a bit of Victorian gothic however I was little disappointed.

Seventeen year old Phoebe Turner lives with her fanatically religious and frankly deeply unpleasant mother Maud and her beautiful Aunt Cissy in London's East End. Aunt Cissy is a music hall star with dark secrets in her past. When Cissy dies unexpectedly and Phoebe and her mother are left without means of support Phoebe goes to Herefordshire to act as a ladies companion to Mrs Samuels, the wife of Cissy's old flame, Nathaniel Samuels. In Herefordshire Phoebe encounters more dark secrets and lies.

The story promises mystery, madness and murder so I was geared up for some Victorian sensation however the story turned out to be slow going with very little interest. The secrets are quite transparent and much of Cissy's dark past is obvious from the beginning. I didn't really feel that involved with any of the characters and the gothic atmosphere I expected was sadly lacking. I didn't get a feel for the music hall scenes in London and I didn't get the gothic suspense I would expect from a ghostly Victorian country house story.

It seems a shame because this was a story which could have been much better if it wasn't so formulaic. It seems that the author wanted to cram the story full of everything Victorian, from the bustling London streets, to the music halls, to a dark gothic country mansion but failed to explore any of them to their full potential.

Overall it's a fair first novel but it wasn't as good as I was expecting or as good as I was hoping.


Please Look After Mother
Please Look After Mother
by Kyung-Sook Shin
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You don't know what you've got til it's gone., 24 May 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Kyung-Sook Shin's Please Look After Mother is a stunning novel. Heart-breaking and intensely moving it shows just what happens when it's too late to say the things you should have said before - Thank you and I love you. It also shows how difficult it is, or impossible, to recapture your past.

Please Look After Mother is the story of a Korean family which starts to fall apart when their mother, So-nyo, goes missing at rush hour in Seoul Station. Through the different voices of the family members we learn more about So-nyo and about just how much she was the backbone of the family. We learn about how So-nyo sacrificed herself for her family - working in the fields until her fingers were frozen, cooking and preparing food, growing vegetables, brewing malt, washing and making clothes. So-yno led a life of selfless devotion unrecognised by any of her family until it was too late.

Each member of the family is sympathetically drawn and I felt for each one of them. The eldest son who is his mother's pride and joy but does not achieve what his mother felt he could achieve. The sophisticated daughter who is famous for her novels but does not know that her mother cannot read them and the husband, a man who never appreciated his wife while she was there but is now lost without her.
The novel is infused with references to South Korea, the food, the juxtaposition of the country and the city, the old generation and the new one. I enjoyed every minute of this deeply moving novel.


Gillespie and I
Gillespie and I
by Jane Harris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect novel., 12 May 2011
This review is from: Gillespie and I (Hardcover)
I read Jane Harris' first book, The Observations, and quite enjoyed it so I was expecting the same sort of thing from Harris' second novel but I was unprepared for how much I would enjoy Gillespie and I and how excellent it would be.

The novel is set in two different periods: London in 1933 the elderly spinster Harriet Baxter sits in her flat with her two birds and her rather morose servant/companion Sarah and writes her memoirs about her eventful involvement with the artist Ned Gillespie and his family in late 19th century Glasgow.

This is a seemingly gentle story of Harriet's friendship with the Gillespie family told in such a deceptively simple style that the reader is lulled into a false sense of security until events take a dark, tragic and unexpected turn and you begin to question just about everything you've already read.

19th century Glasgow is quite beautifully evoked especially the excitement of the exhibition in 1888, and the bustle of the crowded streets. The story progresses at quite a leisurely pace but it is never boring and Harriet is such a charming, jolly and eccentric narrator that she always keeps the reader engaged.

The second half of the novel is taken up with a criminal trial ( I won't say any more about that because I don't want to spoil the story) and the brilliance of Harris' writing is so evocative that the reader is swiftly drawn into the intricacies of a Scottish criminal trial and it feels almost as though you're there or reading true account of a notable trial.

All the characters are well-developed especially the Gillespie family themselves - Ned, the artist, his somewhat distracted wife, Annie, and the two little girls Rose and the possibly disturbed Sibyl but it is Harriet herself who is the star of the novel. She is so beguiling and so forthright that sometimes it is easy to be misled and it is difficult, at times, to distinguish truth and the truth as Harriet sees it.

Gillespie and I is a brilliant novel. I enjoyed every minute of it and would highly recommend it.


Cold Light
Cold Light
by Jenn Ashworth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant second novel from Jenn Ashworth., 11 May 2011
This review is from: Cold Light (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I read and really enjoyed Ashworth's first novel, A Kind of Intimacy, so I was really looking forward to reading Cold Light and I wasn't disappointed. Jenn Ashworth has the enviable ability to create a rather menacing atmosphere and sustain this throughout a whole novel. Cold Light is bleak and dark but it's also comic especially in recalling those excruciating teenage years we all remember.

The premise is intriguing: the people of a deprived northern town come together for the memorial of a couple, Carl and Chloe, who seemingly committed suicide 10 years before but as the mayor starts to dig the foundations of a summerhouse to commemorate the pair he finds a body. The narrator is a 14 year old girl called Laura (Lola) and she knows the identity of the body they've found.

The story proceeds in a series of flashbacks. Lola narrates each argument, petty slight and secrets in her teenage friendships. The story really revolves around Chloe, the idolised one; her two friends Lola and Emma circle around her vying for her attention. In the beginning Lola prides herself on being Chloe's best friend but as we move through the novel the reader begins to question how well she really knows what's going on in Chloe's life especially when a new friend, Emma, comes on the scene and Chloe begins a relationship with an older man, Carl.

Cold Light is, basically, the story of 3 teenage girls (Lola, Emma and Chloe) and their intense relationship; the petty jealousies, the bitchiness, and the secrets. Even after 10 years the adult Laura and Emma are still reeling from the events surrounding the death of their idolised friend Chloe and Lola and the reader receive some incredibly disturbing shocks which make Cold Light a gripping read.


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