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The story fiend (Brighton, UK)

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Brenda and Effie Forever! (Brenda Effie)
Brenda and Effie Forever! (Brenda Effie)
by Paul Magrs
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get the spicy tea on - Brenda and Effie are back, 20 Oct. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Even super-sleuthing pensioners deserve a holiday and so, hoping to get some much-needed rest and relaxation, Brenda and Effie head for the continent. Of course, it comes as no surprise to learn that eerie goings-on and odd characters trail them wherever they go.

Settling down with Brenda and Effie in this the sixth instalment of their capers is like spending time with good old friends. This time there are more wild adventures with old adversaries and with surprising new (literary) ones too. And we get to learn about the ladies' shared destiny.

Magrs's usual mix of off-the-wall storylines and eccentric but sympathetically-drawn characters is here and once again he had me chuckling at quite a few places (the People's Fiend, indeed!) The tone is slightly darker in this installment though and as dire warnings start to flood in for Brenda and Effie, you can't help but worry for their safety. Have they finally bitten off more than they can chew?

There's so much to enjoy here and great writing throughout. Magrs is such an interesting writer - in terms of plot, character but also in his choice of the words he uses. While I raced through the book eager to find out what happened next, I also had to stop occasionally and reread certain passages where his words created perfect images in my mind. I loved the ghoulish purple and green cover design by Bret Herholz too. Finally a chance to see Brenda in all her patched-up splendour!

If you haven't met Brenda and Effie yet, then it's time you put that right. Where have you been?

Beryl Cook: The Bumper Edition
Beryl Cook: The Bumper Edition
by Beryl Cook
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Life lived to the full, 4 Jun. 2012
I love Beryl Cook's paintings - they are full of larger-than-life characters having the time of their lives. What's not to like?

I was particularly pleased to come across this collection. It includes quite a few paintings I hadn't seen before such as ones inspired by trips she took to the United States.

My favourite pictures of hers are the ones that seem to show snatched private moments - someone admiring luxury items in a department store or two larger ladies whispering about something in a cafe/bar as a third person walks by. You can't help but wonder what the story is behind so many of these pictures. That's why it's such a treat that each picture here has a paragraph from Beryl herself explaining certain aspects of the picture. It's fascinating to hear what the original inspiration for each picture was as well as which parts she found most difficult to paint.

Beryl comes across as a someone who loved life and who was genuinely interested in people - things that both come across so clearly in her paintings.

The Writer's Block: 786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination
The Writer's Block: 786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination
by Jason Rekulak
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A perfect addition to any First Aid kit for writers, 4 Jun. 2012
This is a handy book to have around when the words just aren't coming as freely as they should.

The book is divided up into the following sections:
- spark words to get your imagination going in any direction it wants to
- short writing challenges which are designed to get you writing on a given theme
- advice from a variety of well-known writers eg Anne Rice and Isabel Allende. It's also useful to know that everyone finds writing difficult - even the greats!

When I am writing and the words dry up I find pictures and photographs really help so I particularly like that there are quite a few photographs included in this little book too.

Hopefully this will help to get (and keep) you writing!

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death
by M.C. Beaton
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A pot of tea and a slice of murder, 4 Jun. 2012
When Agatha Raisin decides to quit the rat race in London and move to Carsely, an idyllic village in the Cotswolds, she imagines a peaceful retirement awaits her. How wrong can she be? Desperate to get herself known by winning the annual quiche-making competition, she employs some quite unorthodox methods and manages to get herself embroiled in a whole lot of bother instead.

Agatha is definitely an intriguing character. She is irreverent, rude and says exactly what she is thinking. There were a number of times that she made me laugh out loud with her antics. She may share a first name with a certain crime writer but that's where English gentility ends!

There are a lot of extra characters (maybe one too many?) in the book and I couldn't always keep them in my head. Obviously you need enough people in a whodunit to be able to lead the reader down false routes but at a couple of points some of the female suspects did start to blur into one for me. Also, as the plot gets going there was rather a lot of Agatha dashing around the place, trying to get information from one suspect or other only for her to ask one question and then promptly hare off in the opposite direction.

That said, I liked the eccentric characters that made an appearance and the fact that it turned the idea of the idyllic country village on its head. This is the first in a very successful series so there are plenty more adventures to accompany Agatha on when the time is right.

Haunted Homes: True Stories of Paranormal Investigations
Haunted Homes: True Stories of Paranormal Investigations
by Mia Dolan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Quite disappointing as skips over interesting areas, 4 Jun. 2012
I'm intrigued by reportings of paranormal activity and in the reasons given for some spirits apparently feeling the need to remain behind, living alongside us. So I was really interested in this book.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed though. I had hoped to get a better insight into these hauntings and what actually happens when a psychic visits affected homes to confront them.

While it was mildly interesting to read about how Mia prepares herself to communicate with the spirits, I felt we got far too much background on this side of things. Importantly, I felt the parts when Mia helps the spirits to continue on to the other side was skipped over far too quickly while we were given unnecessary details about the wider crew involved. This seemed unnecessary and not what most readers would be interested in.

Personally, I would have liked to find out more about the reasons the spirits gave for disturbing these people's lives. Instead all the cases (each chapter is dedicated to one haunting) were neatly tied up and Mia moves on to the next one without going into much detail. Perhaps she doesn't always find out the reasons why but it would have been interesting to explain this elsewhere.

I see that Mia has written other books. I wonder if other people have read them and if they cover more of the information I am interested in.

One Moment, One Morning
One Moment, One Morning
by Sarah Rayner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love and friendship - at just the right moment, 27 Mar. 2012
Imagine the scene: a packed 7.44am train from Brighton to London. As a woman watches from across the aisle, it seems her fellow passengers are the usual mix of bleary-eyed commuters just trying to get themselves ready for the day ahead. But then something happens - something both unexpected and deeply shocking - and life changes in an instant. For three women on the train nothing will ever be the same again.

This is the starting premise of 'One Moment, One Morning' and the rest of the novel introduces us to these three women and shows us the far-reaching effects this event will have on all of them. The three main characters seemed incredibly real to me. I live in Brighton and Anna, Karen and Lou are all people you could easily run into in and around the city. In fact, the novel left such a strong impression on me that I spent days after I had finished it eagerly searching for them as I was out and about!

One of the things that I particularly enjoyed here was that the story was told from multiple perspectives. This allows you to really get inside the head of each of the main characters - something that is satisfying in a novel which has as much emotional depth as this one. It allowed the three women to tell their own thread of the story and the author Sarah Rayner to pack a lot into a relatively short space. The novel touches on fate, friendship, love, regrets, being true to yourself - all the biggies in fact.

Structuring the novel to follow one week in the lives of the women works perfectly here. For me, the tight time frame and the short chapters kept the story moving along at quite a pace and I couldn't put the book down. I think this was mostly to do with the strength of the characterisation. I really cared for them and was desperate to find out how they would cope with the hand life had dealt them.

While the novel deals with big issues, it always does this in a sensitive way and leaves you with a real insight into situations you hope you will never have to experience yourself. At the same time it is life-affirming and shows you just how resilient the human spirit can be.

This book really spoke to me when I first read it about a year ago and it is one that I have thought of often since. I recently reread it to prepare myself for 'The two week wait' - the author's newest novel which revisits the main characters. I'm happy to say I loved it just as much the second time round so it has definitely earned a permanent place on my book shelves now!

A Kind of Intimacy
A Kind of Intimacy
by Jenn Ashworth
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Love thy neighbour?, 31 Jan. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Kind of Intimacy (Paperback)
Annie Fairhurst is a complex and intriguing character, one that stays with you long after you have turned the last page of this fantastic first novel. When we first meet her, Annie is moving in to a new neighbourhood, keen to leave behind her old life and all that it stands for. She is also eager to get started on her programme of self-improvement, most of it based on advice she has picked up from self-help books. She is desperate to make friends with her new neighbours and it is this need that drives the story forward.

Annie, however, is anything but conventional and the methods she employs to get close to those around her will keep you turning the pages way into the little hours. The author has Annie tell her story in the first person, giving us an interesting take on what she feels is going on around her. The really clever bit though is that we are also drip-fed enough information to form our own opinions. A second strand flowing through the novel gradually reveals Annie's past to the reader, thereby shining a light on Annie herself and what has made her into the person she really is.

While reading this novel, I often found myself wishing I were able to talk to Annie like a good friend would. Her justifications for the steps she takes mean that you can't help but sympathise with her even when you can't agree with the methods she uses. This is a hugely satisfying and compulsively dark read. It's a long time since I finished a novel and then wanted to turn back to page 1 and start it all over again but I wanted to with this novel. Definitely one I will come back to again.

666 Charing Cross Road
666 Charing Cross Road
by Paul Magrs
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fangs for another great tale, Mr Magrs!, 21 Nov. 2011
This review is from: 666 Charing Cross Road (Hardcover)
Shelley, a curator at the Museum of Outsider Art in NYC, has no idea what she's unleashing when she decides to make the Scottish Bride - a hideous effigy with an uncertain past - the centre piece of her new exhibition. And when her aunt Liza receives a disturbing delivery all the way from a very odd establishment in London, quite literally all hell starts to breaks loose.

We're thrown headlong into madcap adventures though the the snow-clogged streets of a Christmassy NYC. We follow Shelley and Liza and a collected assortment of loveable oddballs and misfits (doesn't that describe most of us mind you?) as they do battle to save mankind.

This is another fast-paced Magrs romp through an at times funny, at times B-moviesque horror set up. If you want to read something serious on the dire worldwide financial situation, then this is perhaps not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to get lost in a darkly funny world then this might just tick the right box!

Although this is a standalone novel, there is also a little crossover of characters from other Magrs' novels for those in the know. Don't feel you have to have read any of the others though - although I definitely recommend the Brenda and Effie series to any newcomers. There is definitely room for more crossover in future though and I'm already eagerly anticipating a shindig at the Miramar! I love the idea of favourite characters popping up in other novels. It really helps to bring them alive. Makes me wonder why more authors don't do this.

This is perfect reading as the nights start to get colder. So take off the phone, snuggle up with a warm blanket, make sure snacks are within easy reach and enjoy every moment. I did!

When God was a Rabbit
When God was a Rabbit
by Sarah Winman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars When God was a rabbit (3.5 stars), 11 Sept. 2011
This review is from: When God was a Rabbit (Paperback)
Told in the first person, this is the story of Ellie and the world around her as she sees it. When we first meet her, Ellie is a little girl already grappling with some pretty puzzling questions, such as: Is it true that God really does love everyone? And just why does her new neighbour Mr Golan have a series of numbers printed on his forearm?

Her brother Joe is her greatest ally and along with her best friend, the wise-beyond-her-years Jenny Penny, we are swept along by Ellie's acute observations of the community around her. Along the way she will learn lessons - some good, some bad - about growing up and what it means to be an adult. We skip over both the everyday events and those that will stay with her throughout her life in that way you do when you are a child, when you mistakenly think that childhood will last forever.

I loved this first part of the novel. It brilliantly evokes the 70s - honing in on the telling details of what we ate and drank, what we watched on TV - put simply the way life was back then. This part is a wonderful mix of laugh-out loud sections such as the audition for the school nativity play and darker snippets hinting at the difficulties Ellie and Jenny Penny will still have to face.

As well as the main members of the family, the author does a great job of giving us a whole set of quirky characters as the novel develops. I particularly liked Nancy, Ellie's lesbian aunt who bring a good helping of glamour to their suburban life with tales of her film star antics. Also I had a soft spot for Arthur - the eccentric and foppish guest who never leaves. I loved the idea here that family isn't simply our blood relatives - it also includes all the people we take to our hearts who help us to see life in a new and interesting way.

So why only 3.5 stars, I hear you ask. Well, that's to do with the second half of the novel. When I got to part two, which is told from the adult Ellie's point of view, it just didn't work so well for me. I'm sorry to say I didn't find the voice as compelling and the plot just didn't ring true. The major plot development here felt contrived and I found it hard to feel for the characters involved at that point. However, having decided to make use of some major contemporary events I wished the writer had let this plot line runs its inevitable course. Instead it seemed as if she changed her mind and tried to backtrack afterwards.

Having said all that, this is a first novel from a new and exciting author. There are so many good things about this book and I am looking forward to reading more of her novels in the future.

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

3.0 out of 5 stars A meditation on memory, 21 Feb. 2011
This review is from: The Memory Box (Paperback)
Catherine's birth mother Susannah died when she was just a young baby, leaving her with no memories of her at all. Her father remarries shortly afterwards and Catherine is only too happy to accept this new woman into her life as the only mother she will ever need. Throughout her childhood she manages to block out all references to Susannah and refuses to hear of any traits they may have in common when family members speak of her.

It is only years later when she stumbles across a box of objects Susannah had carefully selected for her when she knew she was dying that Catherine becomes intrigued. But what starts off as a hunt for clues about her dead mother and her past may end up revealing just as much about Catherine and her present.

The book is told in the first person and is very reflective in nature, which suits a book about memory and the past. The character of Catherine, however, is not one you immediately warm to. She comes across as spoiled and more than a little self-absorbed - something the first person narration only emphasises in my opinion. The basic premise of this book is a great one, however, and you can't help but wonder what you would leave loved ones to help them get a sense of the person you really were.

I think one of the things the book captures really well is how elusive and fragile memories can be. Our sense of those that have died is an amalgamation of so many things - our memories of them if we have any but also what we have been told about them (good and bad) and our judgement of the way they lived their lives (as seem through the filter of our own lives). At the end of the book you will be left wondering how well we can ever really know those that have gone before us.

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