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Ms P. E. Vernon (Weston-Super-Mare, England)

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The Keeper of Lost Things: The feel-good novel of the year
The Keeper of Lost Things: The feel-good novel of the year
by Ruth Hogan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.83

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Over-hyped and disappointing, 6 Oct. 2017
It's a nice concept - Anthony Peardew, a sad writer whose fiancée had died before their wedding, spends the rest of his life collecting lost objects in the hope of reuniting them with their owners. Oh, and writes about them. In his will, he leaves his house, his royalties and the unfinished job to his assistant, Laura who, together with the gardener Freddy, and Sunshine, a neighbour's daughter with Down's Syndrome, takes on the task.

I should have learned my lesson by now, because I am easily swayed by glowing reviews on a book cover - ''Wonderful', 'Delightful', 'Joyous' - and am always, always disappointed.

I should also have been alerted by the obvious pun in the name 'Peardew', which is as contrived and as unlikely as the plot (such as it is). I don't mind the odd coincidence in a story - life is full of them - but there are more coincidences in this story than any reader should reasonably be asked to swallow. Oh, and the dead fiancée is a poltergeist in the house and Sunshine knows the back stories of the owners of those lost things just by touching them because, well, Down's Syndrome, right?

Not only is the story trite but the characters are extraordinarily one-dimensional - we are told what their characters are rather than developing our own views from their conversations or actions.

On the plus side, it's still a good concept and, in the hands of a skilful script-writer, it might make a good film (with Richard Curtis as director, natch) but, as a novel, it's badly written and utterly predictable.

I think I'll rewrite those book cover reviews: 'Fey', 'Whimsical', 'Contrived', 'Trite'. There. That's more like it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 20, 2017 6:42 PM BST

Elegant Silver-look Heavy Weight Disposable Hammered Effect Plastic Cutlery Set, (120 Piece set)
Elegant Silver-look Heavy Weight Disposable Hammered Effect Plastic Cutlery Set, (120 Piece set)
Offered by BEST VALUES
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Arrived promptly and in good condition. Very good value for money as quite ..., 3 July 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Arrived promptly and in good condition. Very good value for money as quite heavy duty so (a) will survive the rigours of the party and (b) can be washed and used again for similar informal occasions.

Go Set a Watchman
Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars To Kill Your Memory of Atticus Finch Would Be A Crime, 15 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Go Set a Watchman (Hardcover)
I am both sad and glad that I read it; it is both good and bad; it is both an insight into To Kill a Mockingbird, and a distraction from it; it is good that it has been published, and I wish it had stayed in a locked box in the attic. In other words, I am in two minds.

Perhaps the best way to read this is to pretend you are an editor in a publishing house and you've been given the first draft of a novel. It concerns a young woman travelling home to Alabama from her job in New York to visit her ageing father. Over the course of a few days, she reminisces about her childhood and learns something shocking about her father that causes her to re-evaluate her relationship with him.

As editor, you read the draft and are charmed by certain passages in the book. You particularly love the bits where the young woman remembers her childhood. These could be fleshed out more, and they'd make a fine background to a novel. Oh, and the anecdote about a notable trial where her father defends a black man accused of raping a white woman? Make that the centre of the novel, albeit seen from the point of view of a child. Change the outcome of the trial - gives it a tragic feeling, don't you think? Oh, and her wise uncle? Merge his character with that of her father - and make the father more heroic and less of a racist. Flesh out that character; get rid of that one. Oh, and write it in the first person, not the third. Let's make it more personal. Then, can you change the title? Great! Now it will sell a few more copies...

Reading Go Set A Watchman is an unnerving experience. On its own, it is not a good book. It's too slight, it lacks narrative drive, it's inconsistent, poorly edited and uneven. The anecdotes from Scout's childhood are wonderful, though - no wonder the publishers told her to ditch this novel and write something from the child's point of view - so it is a fascinating first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird. But that's all it is - there is no further insight into characters we feel as if we know and love, because they are simply not the same characters. They were re-drawn for Mockingbird and are all the better for it.

It's impossible to compare Watchman to Mockingbird - there is no comparison, nor could there ever be. Read it for what it is - a first draft - but don't read it if it would harm your memory of Atticus Finch; that really would be a crime.

by Jo Baker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly moving, 7 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Longbourn (Paperback)
What a lovely, lovely book this is! Buy it, borrow it – steal it if you must – but please read it.

Longbourn is a ‘reimagining’ of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the servants. As such, I suppose it belongs to that particular sub-genre of sequels, prequels or re-writings of famous novels. I’m never quite sure whether these are homages by modern authors of books they admire, or whether the authors and/or publishers are just cashing in on the originals’ popularity. Possibly a bit of both? I have pretty much loathed the only two other books in this genre I have read - Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James got thrown at the wall, and Val McDermid's version of Northanger Abbey went in the recycling box, because I didn't think it fair to inflict it on the charity shop. So I came to Longbourn with some trepidation. I needn't have worried.

The book is told mainly from the point of view of Sarah, the housemaid at the Bennets’ home at Longbourn, a character who doesn’t even appear in P&P, although we can infer that there would have been a housemaid to assist Mrs Hill, the housekeeper. Indeed, P&P is written so much from the point of view of Elizabeth and Darcy’s romance that the servants are entirely peripheral. Elizabeth famously trudges over muddy fields throughout P&P, but nobody has ever wondered how the mud was removed from her dress and boots – until Jo Baker asked herself that question.

And it was a good question to ask. P&P was published in 1813, although the book is set slightly earlier during the Napoleonic Wars at the turn of the 19th century. It was a turbulent time, when successive enclosure acts had forced people off common land where they had historically grazed their livestock and gave it to the wealthy landowners who claimed ownership. Enclosure caused immense rural poverty and drove people to the industrial towns looking for work, or into the army to feed the increasing need to fight Napoleon in Spain and Portugal.

So, against this historical background, Jo Baker has woven a story that, for the most part, exists contemporaneously with the events in P&P, although there is some back story in the middle of the book, and it carries on from where P&P ends with Elizabeth happily ensconced at Pemberley.

This view of events works superbly well. Mrs Bennet might bemoan the prospect of Mr Collins inheriting Longbourn, but how much more must the servants have dreaded it? They could be turned off by a new owner. So the servants fall over themselves to make Mr Collins’ stay at Longbourn a pleasant one. Jo Baker paints Mr Collins as a much more sympathetic character than Jane Austen allows. Indeed, we see all the characters in a different light – Mr Bennet locked away in his study is distant and cold; foolish Mrs Bennet might not have depended so much on her daughters’ future marriages if she’d been happier in her own; even the five Bennet girls have more complex (and less likeable) characters in Jo Baker’s story than Jane Austen gave them.

But it is the central story of Sarah that is the beating heart of the book. I won’t give too much away because I found it all incredibly moving. The writing is evocative of both time and place; the characterisation is superb and the pace of the story-telling just perfect. I loved it, and it was a book I was very sorry to have finished – always a good sign.

Finally, I have since read some reviews online and there are quite a few very critical ones. I can understand why – Jo Baker does take a liberty with Jane Austen’s cast of characters and her writing style is not only modern, but has a modern take on matters that would never have occurred to Jane Austen. It might not be a book to appeal to diehard Janeites, but it is an entertaining and immensely readable book for the rest of us. Highly recommended.

Raising Steam: (Discworld novel 40) (Discworld Novels)
Raising Steam: (Discworld novel 40) (Discworld Novels)
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.49

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Raising a little dribble of water, 5 Nov. 2014
It really pains me to write this. I am a HUGE Pratchett fan and, with the exception of his first couple of books, I can't think of a single book of his that I haven't read, re-read and re-re-read. Discworld is a wonderful, brilliant [insert own superlative] invention. I think all the best novels involving non-humans tell us something about ourselves, and Discworld does just that – Pratchett is a supreme satirist. Oh, and he’s very, very funny.

We know he has early onset Alzheimers; we may also have read that he cannot now use a typewriter and dictates his work instead. Apparently he was ‘helped’ with this book by his wife. Bluntly, I suspect she wrote the whole damned thing, because it has nothing of Pratchett’s wit, insight and sheer bloody good story-telling. It is dire.

Raising Steam involves Moist von Lipwig, hero (or anti-hero) of Going Postal and Making Money, in which he sorted out, respectively, the Ankh-Morpork Post Office and its national bank and Royal Mint. This time, he is charged by Lord Vetinari to oversee the new railway system. So he is not rescuing a decaying institution, but rather spearheading a brand new one. Somebody (amusingly given a Yorkshire accent, think on) invents the steam engine; they build railway lines (with a depot in Swine Town – boom-boom), some dwarves object and progress, erm, progresses. The end.

It really is a tumpty-tumpty-tum novel. This happens. Then that happens. But it doesn’t seem to happen in real time – a railway from Ankh-Morpork to Sto Lat is built in about five seconds flat, financed entirely by Harry King. What? Vetinari explains things. What? Vetinari NEVER explains! A complex, multi-faceted character is reduced to a one-dimensional person. No sense of drama. No sense of peril – why would anybody CARE what happens next? Confession – I gave up on this book at page 193 and, frankly, I should have given up a lot earlier.

Pratchett has published six or seven books since his diagnosis, and I can understand why he has wanted to carry on doing what he does best for as long as he is able. But enough is enough, Sir Terry. Can I have my £7.99 back, please?

The Golem and the Djinni
The Golem and the Djinni
by Helene Wecker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars It would make a cracking film, too., 5 Nov. 2014
Oh, I did enjoy this book! I'm a sucker for the 'if you enjoyed that book, you'll enjoy this' kind of blurb on a book-cover, and I'm usually disappointed, but not this time. It bravely proclaims, 'Fans of The Night Circus will love this'. I'm a fan of The Night Circus, and I loved this book, so YAY! for the book blurb.

The Golem and the Djinni is a fairy-tale - with that title it would have to be, I suppose - and like all good tales involving supernatural creatures, their trials and tribulations tell us something about the human condition. In this case (I think), it is the endless puzzle about which is the most powerful influence - nature or nurture?

The golem is a mystical creature made of clay, whose sole purpose is to serve his or her master and do their bidding. So what happens when a golem's master dies soon after it (she) is created and she is left stranded in a strange city? How does she survive with so little experience of life and without guidance? Can she exercise free will and learn to live her life in a way she chooses, or does the spell baked into her clay dictate that she can only truly be happy if she follows her nature and finds a master?

As for the djinni (or genie, as I suppose we know the word), he has been trapped in a metal flask for a thousand years and is released by chance into that same unknown city. He cannot remember anything of the millennium he has spent in the flask, nor of how he was captured, but he remembers his former life very well, and we learn that he led a solitary and sybaritic existence, taking what he wanted and caring little for the consequences on lesser beings. He is still trapped to a certain extent, so can he adjust to life in 1890s New York? Can he learn to consider others' feelings? Or is his yearning for freedom, and for all the power and glory that he once had, too strong?

If I were being picky, I'd say that you do have to take on trust that a woman made of clay could pass for a human even to the extent of consummating a marriage with a human being. There are also some humungous coincidences to swallow. But, taking all that into consideration, it's a cracking book, with some great characters, a real sense of time and place and a truly dramatic showdown. I think it would make a great film... Highly recommended.

Northanger Abbey
Northanger Abbey
by Val McDermid
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.72

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Please read the original instead, 10 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Northanger Abbey (Paperback)
This ‘re-imagining’ of Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid is part of the Austen Project, which aims to ‘team up authors of global significance with Jane Austen’s six novels’, to which the only sane question is: why?

Val McDermid says that reworking Austen’s novels in a contemporary setting might encourage people who hadn’t read the originals to give them a try. Fair enough – after all, the film ‘Clueless’ was a hugely successful re-working of ‘Emma’, but this version of Northanger Abbey is more a simple translation from Georgian into Modernese. Val McDermid has faithfully recreated every scene in the original, merely replacing Bath with Edinburgh, carriages with cars, letters with texts and gossip with Facebook.

It is woeful.

Take this, for example. In the original, Jane Austen writes, "Mrs Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them." There, in one beautiful pithy sentence, is a deliciously acute character assassination.

McDermid’s version reads thus: “But although she didn't like herself for the thought, Cat reckoned she had somehow previously missed the realisation that Susie Allen was the most empty-headed woman she'd ever spent time with. What was bewildering about this discovery was that Mr Allen was definitely neither empty-headed nor obsessed with how he looked. It was puzzling.”

Maybe McDermid was constrained by having to follow the existing plot so faithfully, or maybe her true metier is brutal crime fiction and not light-hearted romcom. Whatever the reason, this clunky, leaden adaptation is an affront to Austen fans and is unlikely to persuade anybody who enjoys this version to read the original.

Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row
by John Grisham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.59

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 27 Sept. 2014
This review is from: Sycamore Row (Paperback)
Well, the book’s poor enough – being slow and unmemorable – but I have a major beef with his publishers or, more specifically, with whichever moron publicist decided to give away the novel’s only surprise … on the front cover and in the blurb on the back cover. I kid you not.

Sycamore Row is a follow-up (of sorts) to A Time to Kill, the novel that made John Grisham’s name as a fine writer of courtroom dramas. It again features Jake Brigance, the lawyer in a sleepy Mississippi backwater who made his name in that bestseller defending a black man who killed the men who raped and left for dead his young daughter. This time around, Jake has been asked to defend the last will and testament of Seth Hubbard, who has scrapped a properly drawn-up will leaving his property to his family in favour of a new, handwritten will leaving virtually everything he owns ($24 million) to his black housemaid.

SPOILER ALERT! Read no further if you don’t want to know the ending and, for heaven’s sake, rip the cover off the paperback if you want to read it, or buy the Kindle version.

The book is 516 pages long. We find out why the novel is even called Sycamore Row on page 492, where we also find out why Seth left his money to Lettie in the first place. Or you could just read the cover of the book instead: ‘Sycamore Row – He will make them pay’ is on the front page. And on the back: ‘As a child, Seth Hubbard witnessed something no person should ever see. When he kills himself, he is an old, rich man. In that moment, his revenge begins.’

It’s rural Mississippi in the 1980s. In the 1920s a boy witnesses something that, 60 years later, brings him to the decision to leave his fortune to a black servant. Fill in the gaps yourself – I did - and you don’t even need to read the book, which is pretty turgid and tells us nothing new about the American justice system or about race relations in the Southern states. I’ve enjoyed most of John Grisham’s books but this was writing by numbers and I’m disappointed I wasted my time on it.

Nothing is Heavy
Nothing is Heavy
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, sad, quirky and DIFFERENT!, 8 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Nothing is Heavy (Kindle Edition)
Damn, this is a good book! Most of the action takes place over the course of one hectic night in Edinburgh, where the lives of a pole dancer, chip shop worker and a man on a stag night dressed in a monkey costume collide. However, their stories are more interwoven than is immediately apparent, since their lives have other connections that we learn about through the course of the book.

The story is in turns funny, sad, bizarre and quirky but, most of all, it has totally believable characters so I found myself blithely accepting some rather unlikely scenarios and coincidences.

My one annoyance is that the book is difficult to get hold of if you don't live in Edinburgh or have a Kindle. I wish more mainstream bookshops would stock it. I know it's a first novel and they'd have to take a punt on it but it really does deserve a wider audience. I was lucky to receive a recommendation about the book from a Scottish friend, otherwise I wouldn't have known of its existence.

If you get a chance to read it, please do - I don't think you'll be disappointed.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I liked it - I just didn't love it..., 2 Aug. 2013
I was looking forward to this, to the extent that it was elevated to the top of Mount TBR despite being bought only last week. So perhaps my expectations were unrealistically high and my disappointment inevitable.

I hasten to add that this is not a bad book: I don't think Neil Gaiman is capable of writing a bad book. The prose is beautiful, the story is often gripping and tense, and there is a real empathy for a child's view of the world that other writers often struggle to find.

And yet... I think it's because I feel cheated. The book is only 250 pages long, say 50,000 words. Neil Gaiman says at the end that it started out as a short story, and I think it shows. With the exception of our narrator, some interesting characters are under-developed. Maybe it's the natural result of the narrator being seven years old for most of the book (it's told in flashback by his older self) so that what he sees and understands is less complex than an adult might grasp, but I'd like to have known more about the Hempstock women and their adversaries.

The book is familiar fantasy territory for Neil Gaiman - the 'nightmares coming true' scenario for children, and although I understand that the book is aimed at adults rather than the teenage market, it has the feeling of a young adult book like Coraline or The Graveyard Book.

All in all, I'm glad I read it and would recommend it although, if you haven't read Neil Gaiman before, I wouldn't start with this one or you'll wonder what all the fuss is about.

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