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Bookaholic babe (England)

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The Poet's Wife
The Poet's Wife
by Judith Allnatt
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Book, 17 Jun. 2011
This review is from: The Poet's Wife (Hardcover)
The 19th century poet, John Clare, was unable to look after himself or his family owing to delusions and depression, which led to his incarceration in The Northampton Lunatic Asylum. His wife, Patty, managed to keep the family together, and her strength and grace shine through in this moving fictional account of her life.

Allnatt's prose is poetic, never purple. She skilfully draws you into life in a rural Victorian village which is about to suffer the fate of mechanisation and the Enclosure Acts. Allnatt's research never overwhelms and provides an adequate backdrop to the story of John Clare's family through his wife's eyes.

The first sentence draws you in. Patty finds her husband, who has been away in a lunatic asylum for four years sitting by the side of the road. There has been no money to make the journey to see him and, later, Clare taunts her with this .Patty also has to come to terms with the fact that Clare appears to be more in love with his dead first sweetheart than her.

There are many poignant moments in the book but Patty is never self-pitying or mawkish. She talks of her lost babies, whom she gave secret names, something she never shared with her husband, and recognises that when a baby dies a parent loses them at all ages. Patty talks of a locked box which she still carries inside her and which still has the power to wound years later.

Patty has grace, strength and perception. Her kindness to a poor starving young boy who runs away, leaving his coat, when he is caught stealing apples, shows us her compassion. She picks the coat up, now worried that he will be cold and hungry, and places two apples inside, hoping he will return.

Patty Clare may just have been the peasant poet's wife, but she was a survivor.


The Hand That First Held Mine
The Hand That First Held Mine
by Maggie O'Farrell
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good story but..., 11 May 2011
I was so excited at the prospect of reading this book, and consequently felt deflated when it did not live up to my expectations. The stories of two women, Lexie and Elina, separated by 50 years, unravel at a slow pace. Lexie meets her future lover, Innes Kent, in Devon before she leaves for London. Innes is enchanted by her and we follow their relationship against a well-researched backdrop of 1950s Soho. Innes, who married young, appears to have an ogre of a wife, Gloria, and a daughter, Margot, whom he generously allows to think is his natural daughter. Margot never forgives Lexie for stealing `her' father and this has reverberations for the next generation; and is at the heart of the `mystery' of this book.
I found the accounts of Elina's post-natal depression, in present-day London, vivid and disturbing, but ultimately boring, because of its detail and length. Conversely, I enjoyed seeing how Lexie's character developed and how seamlessly O'Farrell wove her into Soho life.
The secondary male characters, Innes, Felix and Ted are all well-drawn; and Ted's mental decline is palpable.
It was not until I had reached the end of the book that I appreciated the story O'Farrell had woven. The story is good but spoiled by changes in tenses, revelations by the universal omniscient narrator, too many staccato lists and too much `telling' rather than `showing'.


The Distant Hours
The Distant Hours
Price: £5.22

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Story Which Deserved Better Editing, 9 Mar. 2011
This review is from: The Distant Hours (Kindle Edition)
I thoroughly enjoyed Morton's earlier books, The Forgotten Garden and The House at Riverton and heartily recommend them. As a result, I was looking forward to The Distant Hours and even bought copies for friends in advance as I was confident that Morton would be Morton. The book starts promisingly with the receipt of a letter which was posted 50 years earlier. But then it suffers from a confusion of changes in narrative viewpoint, different time settings and verbosity. I persevered, because I had enjoyed Morton's earlier books. Unfortunately, my expectations were mocked, and I found most of this book a great disappointment. Morton's use of language, in parts, is superlative. For example `Have you ever wondered what the stretch of time smells like?...Mould and ammonia, a pinch of lavender and a fair whack of dust.' And here is Meredith recalling a day, it was: `One of those few shining memories you gather along the way; perfectly formed and sealed like a bubble that forgot to pop'. How evocative is that?

There were some odd choices of words which jarred. Words such as: arrant, despoil, aggrievement, drear, discombulating, assiduous. Her editor should have suggested others.The title is a little confusing, too. The ancient walls of the castle in question, apparently, sing 'the distant hours' and sometimes the distant hours forget to hide. What is this all about? This book needed better editing. It should have been shorter and not changed its point of view so many times -it jumps from first person to third to omniscient. It is, in short, all over the place. Morton has a good story which hasn't been put together as it deserved to be.

Ironically, Morton makes a reference to the contract between reader and writer and the dangers of narrative greed .Perhaps she and her editor ought to have heeded that advice.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium series Book 1)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Millennium series Book 1)

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thrills Galore with a serious message, 26 Feb. 2011
One of the thrills of this book is finding out who is responsible for a number of sadistic murders on female victims over a considerable period of time. Another thrill involves finding out what happened to a girl who went missing, aged 14, almost 40 years ago. The characters who unravel the mysteries are a journalist, Blomkvist, and his side-kick, Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo. The story contains many intense issues which some people might find distasteful. Despite the main characters not being very attractive, I found myself rooting for them. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the pace of this book which steadily increases to an exciting finale. I loved the fact that the character who comes out on top is a woman who challenges us to accept her for what she is, and not to judge her by what she looks like - piercings, tattoos and the rest.


The Snowman: Harry Hole 7
The Snowman: Harry Hole 7
Price: £4.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Page Turner, 26 Feb. 2011
Putting aside the merits of: the translation, the graphic detail of the killings and some sexual encounters, this is undoubtedly a page-turner (some pages skimmed and some pages couldn't wait to find out what happened!).

I wonder whether the writer came across the statistic that `somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent of all children in Scandinavia have a different biological father from the one they think', and then decided that this could be expanded into a novel.

The major clue as to what has happened is, of course, in the first chapter, which starts in 1980. By mistake a snowman becomes involved! and in due course becomes a chilling calling card! We find out that a combination of the first snow-fall and a snowman on the scene, will lead to the murder of a woman who has betrayed her husband.

It takes Harry Hole a long while to work out who is responsible and he even gets it terribly wrong, which only serves to reinforce our view of the incompetent police investigator. But, having said that, Hole perseveres and comes up trumps in the end.

I love the red-herrings, such as Katrine's masculine perfume and the backdrop of Hole's home which, infected by a fungus, is being torn apart. The fungus is, of course, a metaphor. When it disappears and the apartment is restored, the serial killer has been found.But it can strike unseen!

I enjoyed the thrill of reading this book but I know that Raymond Briggs's Snowman will be more enduring than Nesbo's!


Isa and May
Isa and May
by Margaret Forster
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't let this book put you off Forster, 9 Feb. 2011
This review is from: Isa and May (Hardcover)
What is totally wonderful about this book is the creation of two very different grandmothers,Isa and May. Each is believable, and Forster must be applauded for this. The secondary characters irritate and the narrator's account of the story is all over the place,just like a good journal should be!

Recently I described Margaret Forster as `my favourite author'. So I was looking forward with alacrity to reading Isa & May. Having just acquired a Kindle it was also going to be the first novel I read on it. I am sorry to say that Isa & May was a very disappointing read and has,to some degree,spoiled my first Kindle experience. Reading with a Kindle allows you to see in percentage terms how much of the book you have read. It also gives you markers which can be used in reviews! 50% of the way through I was still waiting for a narrative hook, but being Forster I thought that there must be method in her madness. By the time 80% had been read, I still believed that she was in the process of drawing all the loose ends in and working her way towards a breathtaking climax. It didn't happen.

Forster raises many questions which remain unresolved. There is only so much a reader can be expected to fill in. The main character, Isamay, is writing a dissertation which has to do with grandmothers . Forster clearly has done considerable research on famous grandmothers, women such as Queen Victoria, Elizabeth Fry et al ,and has incorporated this into the book with little effect and merit. As Isamay's university mentor, says on numerous occasions (we have rather boringly got to go to tutorials as well) she can't see the point of what she's writing - although she does relent towards the end. What exactly was the point of Isa and May I'm not sure.

Don't let this book deter you from reading Forster. Try some of her books which I have previously reviewed and recommended on this site.

If this had been a novel by any one other than Margaret Forster I would have stopped reading on my Kindle when the marker reached 5%


The Help
The Help
by Kathryn Stockett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, 21 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Help (Paperback)
The struggle for black civil rights in America doesn't overwhelm this book. It is simply a backdrop against which the three main characters, Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter, tell their connected personal stories. Sensory detail abounds, so that you feel you are in Mississippi in the 1960s. White Miss Skeeter encourages a number of black maids to tell their stories, which will come together in a book. The maids' stories expose the flaws of their white employers, but also depict the love which existed in some cases between them. In addition to the tension created by national civil rights issues, further conflict is created by the character of white Miss Hilly, who has the power to destroy lives by her position in Mississippi Society. There is considerable humour too. Such as when Aibileen, one of the maids, talks about `Green Martian Luther King', to her young charge, Mae Mobley, to explain that colour doesn't matter, it's what's on the inside that counts. We know Aibileen has succeeded when Mae Mobley, asked by her schoolteacher to draw what she likes about herself best, colours herself black although she is white. Here's to all those sung and unsung heroes who have stood up for basic human rights whatever the cost to themselves.


The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Thank you for your recommendation,Penny, 31 Oct. 2010
I believe it's a good idea to follow the recommendations of another Book Group when deciding a Book Group choice. Chances are that if it provoked a good discussion in one group it will do the same in another. However, when I started to read this book, I began to doubt my good friend Penny's choice. For me there was no narrative hook for some time to draw me in. But when it came, and I have to say I was well over half way through before I was hooked, I saw Penny's point.

There are several layers to absorb in this book. I think(now that I know the story and what happens to Renée)that I shall be better equipped to re-read this book and appreciate the poetry of the words and the philosophy expounded.

The story is simple: The lives of a middle-aged concierge (Renée) and a twelve-year-old girl (Paloma) converge in the luxurious apartment block where Renée works and Paloma lives. Both are hiding from the world and there seems no way out for either one of them. They are both intellectuals and in their own way are waging a war against the class system.

There are a number of delightful secondary characters, without which the story, as opposed to the message, would be not so enjoyable. In particular there is Manuela, an aristocrat, who has fallen on hard times and is now a cleaner. She has been Renée's friend for ten years and when they meet for tea always brings delightful homemade baked items wrapped in tissue paper. And there is Ozu the rich new tenant, who aided by Paloma, finally allows Renée to be herself.

Writers sometimes put too much of themselves into their fiction and Barbery has arguably done this here. Japan and philosophy figure largely in her life and these two influences loom large.

There is a touch of Salley Vickers' Miss Garnet about Renée. The scene where Renée is getting ready to go to dinner with Ozu recalls a similar scene when Julia Garnet is dressing up for an older man. The similarity ends there because Julia was about to be betrayed which was never going to be the case for Renée. Incidentally Barbery, like Vickers, has two narrators and the voices more or less alternate and appear in different fonts.

Having spent her life in pursuit of invisibility, Renée is outed and we think we are in for a happy ending. Is there one? Renée has been unmasked and it seems that her sister's death has been the raison d'etre for her lack of faith in humankind. Renée's attitude is vindicated in a brilliant scene where two tenants see her on the arm of Ozu going out to dinner and are civil to them both. But these snobbish women haven't `seen' her - nobody notices the maid.

I was moved in a number of places by some of the ideas and language used. I re-read passages because they were very poetic (well done translator). But I could see how some readers might find this book 'overdone' in places. One member of my book group, ahead of tomorrow's meeting, has said this,and also that she laughed at the ending. How could anybody do that? One of themes of the book is friendship. Renée found it at last. Thankfully,I have a friend like Penny who recommended this delightful book.


The Memory Box
The Memory Box
by Margaret Forster
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memory Boxes Justified, 16 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The Memory Box (Paperback)
If you were dying would you put items into a Memory Box? If so, why? And what would you place in it? Susannah dies at the age of 31 leaving a baby (Catherine) who is 6 months old. She also leaves a Memory Box with no instructions as to when it should be given to her daughter. Catherine's father remarries and his new wife,Charlotte, with whom he never has children, becomes a doting mother to Catherine. Catherine is told about the Memory Box when she is 21 but is indifferent to it. It is not until after both her father and Charlotte die and she has to sell their Oxford home ,that she comes across the box in the attic. She is now the same age as her mother,Susannah, was when she died. Susannah has labelled the box : For my own darling Catherine Hope, in the future. There are 11 items in the box but there is no note or letter. By leaving a Memory Box, Susannah has made some sort of claim on Catherine.

Both Catherine and Susannah's characters are slowly revealed as Catherine goes on a quest to find what Susannah wanted to impart from the items in the box. The process of trying to find this out, leads Catherine to understand both Susannah and herself.

Catherine had adored her step mother,Charlotte, and had rejected anything to do with her natural mother, Susannah, whist she grew up. Through the items in the box she senses Susannah's sadness and her fear of death and her agony of leaving her baby. The Memory Box gives Catherine a connection to Susannah and makes her complete. You sense her changing from a volatile selfish woman to a better person. Catherine finally recognises Susannah as her mother and Charlotte as her step mother and this all due to the Memory Box.

Catherine's relationship with her cousin Rory is brilliantly portrayed. Rory has been more or less disowned by his upper crust parents after he told them he was gay. There is a marvellous scene in the book where the two cousins are lying down on Catherine's bed and Rory mimics his mother's way of talking.

Revelation is one theme of the book and another is understanding. I found this compelling and I wholeheartedly recommend it


The Seduction of Mrs. Pendlebury
The Seduction of Mrs. Pendlebury
by Margaret Forster
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Are Neighbours Good For You?, 16 Sept. 2010
Mrs Pendlebury (Rose) is almost 70 years old. She has been married to Stanley for 50 years and has had two children: Frank ,whom she has not seen for 24 years, and Ellen, who died when she was 18 months old.

The Pendleburys have lived in newly fashionable Islington for around 25 years, but have had nothing to do with their neighbours until the arrival of the Orams next door. It is 18 month old Amy Oram who seduces Mrs Pendlebury away from her reclusive existence. Over a period of 2 years the Pendleburys become popular in their neighbourhood and this is all due to Mrs P being enticed first by Amy and then Amy's mother, Alice. But things are not quite right in the Pendlebury household and probably never have been. There are hints that Stanley knew there was something unusual about Rose when he first introduced her to his family; and her odd behaviour is most likely the reason why Frank emigrated to Australia.

Mrs P nags her husband incessantly but there appears to be no malice involved. She clearly suffers from delusions and these escalate until she has a complete mental breakdown. This is precipitated by her son cancelling a trip to see him in Australia owing ( purportedly) to an accident his wife, Veronica, has had.

Stanley has put up with his wife and life clearly because he wants to. Mrs P sees it as her duty to organise the household, and Stanley has been happy not to have to do any chores as long as he can go weekly to his club and have a flutter on the pools.

This book was first published in 1974 and it brings life in the mid-1970s alive by reference to such things as :The Power Strikes, the clothes, class tensions and babysitting at 20p an hour! There is a lot of hilarity, especially in the exchanges between Rose and Stanley. There are also a number of poignant moments such as Rose suddenly wanting to know, from Stanley, what had happened to the Silver Cross pram after Ellen died.

You are always hoping that Mrs P will see the error of her ways and literally take of the hat which she feels she must wear at all times . And always at the back of your mind is the question: What effect does her friendship with Mrs P have on Alice? Half way through the book, Alice realises that her happiness relies on Mrs P's approval. But soon everything goes terribly wrong and this makes compelling and disturbing reading. Maybe the moral is: Don't get too close to your neighbours!


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