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Touch
Touch
by Claire North
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Clever and original but needed to be tighter, 25 April 2015
This review is from: Touch (Hardcover)
A clever book by a clever author: Touch is the second book from the writer of the brilliant The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and like Harry, it features a protagonist (Kepler) who has abilities that ordinary people do not. Kepler has the ability to switch bodies with anyone that he touches and has been living this way for the past 250 years. Sometimes he spends only moments in a body, other times it can be years. Over the years he has become fluent in multiple languages, become familiar with many cities and has developed a sense of responsibility for those whose bodies he "borrows". He has also come to know a few others who share his abilities - fellow "ghosts" as they refer to themselves.

The book opens when someone is trying to kill Kepler. Gradually he learns that there is an organisation which is targeting and trying to eliminate the ghosts and which has already killed many of them.

I really enjoyed the originality of this book and the thought that the author has put into what it would be like to be a "ghost" - the things you look for in a host body and how shifting into a body that is old or inebriated is an unpleasant experience when you haven't had the time to get accustomed to that state. The first half of the book is fast moving, gripping and clever. However the story is too stretched out and by the end of it I was feeling weary.


Lunch In Paris: A Delicious Love Story, with Recipes
Lunch In Paris: A Delicious Love Story, with Recipes
by Elizabeth Bard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant enough but nothing memorable, 23 April 2015
This is the account of an American woman who moves to Paris and marries her French boyfriend (who's not at all a stereotype - he's a tapdancing engineer with the unlikely name of Gwendal). It's about how she adapts to living in Paris and how she falls in love with the city and the cuisine. She ends every chapter with some of her favourite recipes, so it's part memoir, part travelogue, part recipe book.

Unfortunately Elizabeth just isn't as interesting as she thinks she is. There's too much about her - I love history! I grew up surrounded by women! I like eating! - and not enough objectively about the experience of moving to a new country. Parts of the book also felt like they had been taken verbatim from emails to her mother (eg "tonight when I came out of the Louvre I noticed them cleaning the windows").

Some of the most interesting parts for me were the way that she starts to find fault in so many aspects of the American culture. She pokes fun at American tourists and sneers at her mother for assuming that things will operate in Europe as they do in the US. Over my life I've lived in seven different countries, and it got me thinking about the way that I have adapted and assimilated. I was also interested in her views on the differences between American vs French attitudes, how what is quite acceptable in the US is seen as pushy in France and how Americans show their power by helping whereas the French show their power by blocking progress.

The integration of the recipes (more than 60) feels very natural given Elizabeth's obsession with food. (She's the kind of writer who describes walls as being the colour of butter or a sweater as being the colour of warm milk.) While I haven't tried any, for the most part they sound tasty and easy to follow. They are also listed in the index.

While I found the book okay, I got bored towards the end, because ultimately it doesn't go anywhere. It felt like Bard wrote it because she had nothing better to do with her time. There are better books that cover similar territory. Almost French: A New Life in Paris is one which I recommend, or if the foodie aspect is what appeals, try The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry.


The Novel Habits of Happiness (Isabel Dalhousie Novels)
The Novel Habits of Happiness (Isabel Dalhousie Novels)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A warm installment in a loved series, 21 April 2015
I feel a bit disloyal giving this book three stars, hence I've given it four, although that's a stretch. I have read all nine books in the series and somewhere along the way I moved from loving them to just kind of liking them. Having said that, this is one of the best in some time, even if it does take until Chapter 5 before anything of consequence happens.

Isabel Dalhousie is the editor of a philosophical magazine who lives in Edinburgh with her handsome husband Jamie (that's only mentioned about, oh! 100 times) and their three year old son Charlie. She has an active mind and she is always musing about topics as varied as the failings of lions, whether one can be pure of heart without being boring and the reliability of the Swiss railway system.

There are two main storylines in this book. The first concerns Isabel being asked to investigate a child who is convinced that they have had a previous life. His descriptions of where he lived are so vivid that his mother asks Isabel to find out whether it is possible that such a place exists. The second storyline concerns her old nemeses Professors Lettuce and Dove, who turn up unexpectedly in Edinburgh. While both storylines take some time to develop, they are well developed and largely resolved, which is something that hasn't always happened with this series in the past.

The main point of this book seems to me to make you think about kindness. Again and again different characters remind us of the need to be kind to others, to open oneself to goodness "as one opens a door to allow a friend to come in". And ultimately, because you can't read a book in this series without thinking about being a better person, I rate it four stars.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 23, 2015 9:48 PM BST


The Mirror World of Melody Black
The Mirror World of Melody Black
by Gavin Extence
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keep an open mind and just start reading, 18 April 2015
I loved this. Much like a nervy pregnant woman, I didn't think I could find room in my heart to love another book by Gavin Extence as much as I loved the one I already had (The Universe versus Alex Woods), but I do. Melody Black is quite a different book, but at its core there are similarities. Both are about a quirky misfit and both are told with both heart and humour.

I knew very little about the story when I picked up this book. The description on the book's inside cover is extremely vague and the title also gives nothing away - it sounds like a story about a drag queen! - and in any case has only a tenuous link to the plot. My issue, and I suspect the publisher's concern, is that if you know what the book is about you might say "huh, sounds like a downer" and not read it. And yet it's anything BUT a downer. It's clever, it's engaging, it's witty, it's truthful and it's cautiously optimistic. So read the next paragraph with all of that in mind.

The book is narrated by Abby, a freelance journalist in her late 20s who lives with her boyfriend Beck. One evening she goes to borrow a can of tomatoes from their neighbour and finds his dead body in his living room. (This is not a thriller - the death is from natural causes.) The discovery affects Abby. She develops insomnia and starts to have increasingly wild ideas. Gradually we learn that Abby has bipolar disorder and that the incident has triggered a spiral into mania. Which is what the book is about - what happens to Abby next.

As Gavin Extence explains in the Author's Note at the end of the book, he has some experience of mental illness on which he has drawn to create Abby's completely fictional story. Perhaps this is why the descriptions of how she feels and behaves seem so real and comprehensible. The book is littered with the kind of sentences that you want to read out to someone. One example I loved is when Abby is talking about her sister Fran: "Fran was never someone who was likely to understand her little sister's mood disorder. In terms of her own mental health, she was the equivalent of the person who has never caught a cold."

I loved this book. Abby got under my skin and I am sorry to be saying goodbye to her. Bravo Gavin Extence.


The Shut Eye
The Shut Eye
by Belinda Bauer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missed the mark for me, 16 April 2015
This review is from: The Shut Eye (Hardcover)
I wasn't familiar with the description "shut eye" before I started reading this book, but as Wikipedia helpfully tells me, a shut eye is a performer who becomes so adept at the illusion of mind reading that the performer comes to believe that he or she actually possesses psychic powers.

In this book, the Shut Eye is Richard Latham, a psychic who failed to give the Police actionable visions in the case of a missing girl a year earlier and now gives readings at a local church on Friday evenings. Among his crowd of desperate attendees is Sandra, who has lost her dog, and Anna, whose four year old son has gone missing.

I didn't really like this book and there are a few reasons. I didn't warm to any of the characters and the setting and premise just felt kind of...grubby. Be aware too that it's a storyline that concerns two missing children and there are some parts of it that I found quite disturbing and hard to read. Also, the psychic elements - particularly a twist near the end concerning a photograph - just felt kind of ridiculous. I have read and liked other books by Belinda Bauer and I think she's a talented writer but in this instance I wish I hadn't picked this book up and I'm a little baffled by the many rave reviews that it's got.


The Final Minute
The Final Minute
Price: £6.17

3.0 out of 5 stars Very readable but not his best, 13 April 2015
This review is from: The Final Minute (Kindle Edition)
Simon Kernick's books are reliable page turners. They hook you in quickly and have you flicking the pages until late in the night. This one is no exception, and the fact that I gave it only three stars doesn't mean that it's not relentlessly readable - it is! However it's not one of the strongest plots that Kernick has delivered, relying too much on coincidences and the reader's willingness to overlook logic as the body count mounts. And while the protagonists are very likeable, their behaviour stretches credibility too far.

The plot focuses on Matt Barron, recovering from a car accident which has given him amnesia. His sister is looking after him and has hired both a nurse and a psychiatrist to help him recover his memories. However he has a nagging suspicion that things aren't what they appear to be and when two very nasty killers turn up one day, he finds himself on the run for his life, while at the same time desperate to make sense of the vague memories that he has and find out why so many people are after him.

Like all of Kernick's books, some familiar characters will make an appearance along the way, including Tina Boyd and DCI Mike Bolt. As we will also learn, Matt Barron has himself been a major character in a previous book (if you don't want to know which it was because that would constitute a spoiler, stop reading this review now - but if you do want to know, it's the eigthth Simon Kernick book, with the number ten in the title).


The Lost Art of Having Fun: 286 Games to Enjoy with Family and Friends
The Lost Art of Having Fun: 286 Games to Enjoy with Family and Friends
Price: £6.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource manual for hours of fun, 12 April 2015
This is a terrific reference book for when you have a group of people to entertain. It would be equally good for families or teachers. There are a wealth of parlour and party games (286 to be precise). There are some pen and paper games including ones that most of us are familiar with (hangman, battleships etc) but no card games. The majority need no props or only items that are very easily located.

While there are a few games that can be played with only two people, the majority need at least four. It would have been helpful if there was a reference at the beginning of each description to how many people are required/can be accommodated. The instructions for each game are simple, fairly brief and make them sound like fun!

The sections are:
1. Rainy Day Games
2. Car Journey Games
3. Games using pen and paper, knucklebone or matchsticks
4. Racing games
5. Word or number games
6. Party Games
7. Musical or dramatic games
8. Country House Weekend (games for large groups and/or spaces)
9. Seasonal Games eg for New Year's, Hallowe'en, Christmas


The Lost Art of Having Fun: 286 Games to Enjoy with Family and Friends
The Lost Art of Having Fun: 286 Games to Enjoy with Family and Friends
by Gyles Brandreth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource manual for hours of fun, 12 April 2015
This is a terrific reference book for when you have a group of people to entertain. It would be equally good for families or teachers. There are a wealth of parlour and party games (286 to be precise). There are some pen and paper games including ones that most of us are familiar with (hangman, battleships etc) but no card games. The majority need no props or only items that are very easily located.

While there are a few games that can be played with only two people, the majority need at least four. It would have been helpful if there was a reference at the beginning of each description to how many people are required/can be accommodated. The instructions for each game are simple, fairly brief and make them sound like fun!

The sections are:
1. Rainy Day Games
2. Car Journey Games
3. Games using pen and paper, knucklebone or matchsticks
4. Racing games
5. Word or number games
6. Party Games
7. Musical or dramatic games
8. Country House Weekend (games for large groups and/or spaces)
9. Seasonal Games eg for New Year's, Hallowe'en, Christmas


The Liar's Chair
The Liar's Chair
Price: £3.77

4.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the darkest book I've ever read, 12 April 2015
This review is from: The Liar's Chair (Kindle Edition)
Wow, this one is dark. It makes Gillian Flynn's books look positive and upbeat. Rachel and David have been together for twenty years. They have built a very successful business together and from the outside their lives look perfect. But Rachel is badly damaged from her childhood and David is extremely controlling and abusive. When the book opens, Rachel accidentally kills a man in a hit and run and this will set off a chain of events which will unravel her.

This is a well written book and in the second half particularly the tension is very high. Reading it, I was desperate for Rachel to get back at David and willing her not to be a victim. Be aware that it covers a lot of unpleasant territory and almost every glimmer of hope will be quickly stamped on. This is not a book about pleasant people or neat resolutions. It is dark, darker than a toothless panther on a moonless night.


Second Life
Second Life
by S J Watson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good suspense but ultimately too silly, 10 April 2015
This review is from: Second Life (Hardcover)
It's hard to say what I thought of this book. It starts off slowly and reads a bit like a Fifty Shades piece of fan fiction (perish the thought). I was picking it up, reading a bit, putting it down. Then around the halfway mark the pace ramps up and it gets genuinely pretty tense and creepy. A real page turner. But then the ending is - well, it's pretty silly and somewhat unresolved to boot. So I'm back to not liking it so much again.

It's narrated by Julia, a happily married woman who goes off the deep end after her sister gets murdered and starts trying to find out who her sister may have met through the internet. She gets sucked into an online relationship and it starts to become apparent that the man she is seeing is not being entirely truthful with her. Part of the tension is figuring out how much he can or cannot be trusted. There are a few good twists!

The book is made weaker by Julia being such an unsympathetic character. Rather than worrying for her, at times I couldn't help feeling like she'd get what was coming to her. I couldn't relate to her nor the decisions that she was making. It reminded me in some ways of Apple Tree Yard, both in terms of the tawdry sex and the implication that bad things will always happen to married women who stray. It's not a bad book, but the complete lack of plausibility and the absence of people that we care about detracts from what it could have been.


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