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C. Bannister (Jersey, CI)
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The House: The brilliantly tense and terrifying thriller with a shocking twist - whose story do you believe?
The House: The brilliantly tense and terrifying thriller with a shocking twist - whose story do you believe?
Price: £0.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and Compulsive Reading, 17 Aug. 2017
Wow!! Words fail me – well almost because this wouldn’t be much of a review if it had no words at all.

In short this book is scary, not altogether surprising since it features an old house in London jam-packed with the previous owner’s belongings including a collection of stuffed birds.

Told through a written letter between Sydney Baker and Jack Walsh detailing all the events and most intriguingly the secrets they’ve kept from each other. The author’s choice of this somewhat unusual writing style becomes absolutely clear but not until far later, in the meantime the freshness of the exchanges between the pair are hypnotic and make for totally compelling reading.

Now I don’t usually go in for gothic type books but if they are all as excellent as The House, I might well change my opinion. Only incrementally are the cause of the strange smells, the sounds that keep Jack on edge at night and the other events that turn their new beginning into a nightmare revealed in what I think is a masterclass of suspense writing. Yes, so far, all so textbook, albeit in the advanced section, but there is an element which really brings this book to life. The narrative in the first person is so well written, so close to actual speech that you can hear Syd and Jack talking to you it felt that real. There are moments of tenderness which alternate with phrases that capture the language those who practice defiant guilt, we hear of hard times behind the couple and hopeful times ahead and mixed amongst all of this are some genuinely funny moments as well as phrases that conjure up a whole heap of emotions behind what appears to be the throw-away lines.

About the only thing my father was afraid of was the prospect of maybe one day being called upon to express and emotion that wasn’t indignation.
There is misdirection aplenty and with a setting in a creepy house, two very dissimilar protagonists, ex-junkie Syd and the more laid back, but not entirely without issues Jack. Add to that the background of the purchase I was unsure what direction the book was going to take from the outset, but boy did I enjoy the journey.

In case you haven’t got it, I loved this book, it is definitely one of my books of the year because not only was it compelling reading (if I’d known how compelling I would have waited for a less busy time so that I didn’t keep having to put it aside) but it had dark parts, light parts and each one was perfectly placed. The House delighted me whilst scaring me, it engaged me and inspired me to really look at the writing to try and work out what it was about it that made this book one that I’d have happily started all over again the instant I turned the last page.


Broken Heart: David Raker Missing Persons #7
Broken Heart: David Raker Missing Persons #7
by Tim Weaver
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A convaluted plot which delves into the past, 15 Aug. 2017
A car-park in Somerset is the scene of the disappearance of Linda Korin who drove in one day, left her car and was never seen again. The police investigate but are unable to come up with a satisfactory query of what happened the most likely explanation is that she went into the sea, a theory that doesn’t really stack up as the tide was out at the time her car is captured on CCTV going into the car park. After months with no news Linda’s sister in America asks David Raker to take on the case.

Tim Weaver has produced something quite special with this series, Broken Heart being the seventh book. We have crime fiction but the focus is on missing people rather than dead bodies and in doing so often uncovers tales which are mulit-layered and unusual. Here we have a woman in her sixties, and although she is beautiful having been a former model and actress in second-rate horror movies, she is not the typical crime fiction victim.
The story had me engaged, from the start I was trying to work out how the facts presented could be, you see this is one author that doesn’t ‘cheat.’ There is no trying to gloss over incontrovertible facts by having random witnesses lying for no good reason all the many problems to solve, and there are lots within this novel, are unravelled fairly. After a skype meeting with Linda’s sister, Wendy Fisher he begins to look at her early life with her husband who had been a famous film director until he was exiled from Hollywood to Spain for being a communist.

Having read and been engaged in the lives of the subjects, as well as fully entertained by David Raker himself in the previous books I found this one veered perhaps down a too convoluted path for me with my observations are that there was more violence in this episode than the previous books in the series and the expose into film making was fascinating but perhaps a little bit too ‘nerdy’ for those of us who aren’t as thrilled by the subject as Tim Weaver. As a result the endless playing of sections of a film, a director obsessed by his star and lost copies of films made years previously which included fairly lengthy explanations of how originals need to be stored to keep them from deteriorating slowed the pace down for me. If you have a love of old Hollywood movies, especially those naff horror ones, then you will love this aspect. What is not in doubt that there is a complicated mystery to be solved and my sleuthing didn’t even come close.

Ultimately although the storyline was inspired by the film world, underneath, as in all good books this is about people and you don’t have to have an interest in the parts to be interested in how others behave.


The Island
The Island
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful saga told against the backdrop of a leper colony, 15 Aug. 2017
This review is from: The Island (Kindle Edition)
Alexis Fielding is on the brink of making the biggest decision of her life and almost as a distraction fixates on the mystery of her mother’s life, her childhood that she refused to talk about. All through her childhood Sofia had received letters with Greek stamps on intermittently though Alexis’s childhood but when she is visiting Greece with her long-standing boyfriend she tells her mother that she would visit the place where Sofia had grown up, Plaka and Sofia relented and gave her a letter to give to her old friend.

The story that follows spans decades from before the Second World War and a good part of it is set on the leper colony on Spinalonga where sufferers of leprosy were sent, away from their friends and family to stop the spread of the disease. What I’d never realised before visiting Spinalonga and reading The Island, was that sufferers could and often did live for years, the trajectory of the disease not being predictable until the end which to be honest sounds pretty horrific.

This is a saga of a story though, and has all the required elements of love, betrayal, secrets and at its heart family. The story swings backwards and forwards from the little village of Plaka where life is simple to the bigger towns where research was going on to find a cure for the dreadful disease, a search which was suspended when the war became the fight that the whole of Greece was focussed on.

The story is told through Fontini’s retelling of the events spanning years to Alexis and the story centres around Maria Petrakis, a young teacher who may have caught Leprosy from one of her pupils. Maria was sent to Spinalonga along with the ten year old boy, leaving her father and her younger sister behind. But Spinalonga wasn’t the bleak place you might suppose. Continued pressure on the great and the good of Crete meant that those living there were able to make the place into a small community complete with market day and supported by twice weekly deliveries of goods from Plakka. With letters and regular visits from a doctor who was willing to take the risk of contracting leprosy the inhabitants get news from the world outside, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to put yourselves into the shoes of those who lived in the little houses on the island of their exile.
            
Victoria Hislop weaves a fantastic tale around a family based on the history of an island which must have held so many equally involved stories and so vivid was Maria’s story that I had to remind myself continually that this was a work of fiction but despite that, now many weeks after reading The Island Maria’s story lingers in my mind. For those of you who haven’t yet read this book I’m pleased to report that despite the subject matter the book comes to the perfect ending.


Did You See Melody?
Did You See Melody?
by Sophie Hannah
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Sophie Hannah delights again, 15 Aug. 2017
This review is from: Did You See Melody? (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
When you pick up one of Sophie Hannah’s books, I’ve learnt it is best to expect the unexpected and she’s done it again, I was gripped by the mystery of the seven year old’s disappearance seven years ago, a disappearance that had gripped America from the start.

As to be expected from this hugely talented author we have characters that are so memorable you’ll want to send them a Christmas card, or at perhaps cross them off the list, because,  some of them aren’t very nice at all!

Cara Burrows has booked herself into a five star hotel in Arizona, miles from her husband and two teenage children, simply leaving a note to tell them she will be back on 24 October. It takes a while for the reader to understand how this seemingly nice woman could take such an action, or perhaps more importantly why. Patience is key, Sophie Hannah starts with a mystery which demands an answer but she makes her readers wait for them, but fear not, the answers are all given in good time. Cara arrives at Swallowtail resort late at night and is booked in by the receptionist. She makes her way to the room, only to find that it is already occupied by a father and daughter who she disturbs from their sleep. The receptionist is deeply apologetic and finds her a new room.

Staying at the hotel at the same time as Cara is an elderly lady who has ‘seen’ Melody at the resort each time she has stayed there. Melody was a girl who was all over the news and excerpts from talk shows before the culprits were arrested are included in the novel. This platform is useful for discussing the very different ways that crimes are handled by the media in the UK and the US. In the US the talk show host Bonnie Juror is able to shout her beliefs from her chat show without threat of perverting the course of justice, something that simply would never happen in the UK, although of course it doesn’t stop individuals speculating when we see the sadly all too familiar media statements from grieving families.

With Cara needing a bit of displacement activity she makes a very reserved British bond with two fellow sun lounger inhabitants, a mother and daughter both of whom had me in stitches with their brilliant one-liners with the differences in approach between the two nations accurately portrayed. Anyway between them they educate Cara on the full Melody story and encourage her growing suspicion that Melody is still alive and on the resort.

Taken in parts this story is completely unbelievable but I really didn’t mind, the journey was so entertaining, the commentary that underlines the storyline on a number of different subjects is true which allowed me to believe in the right circumstances with a good handful of coincidences thrown in that this could be true…

This is the perfect summer read although if you are staying in a less than palatial resort you may experience some envy, with brilliant characters, each one is so superbly drawn (and coloured in) with a fair bit of drama to ensure that a soothing massage I required by the time you turn that brilliant last page.


Midnight in Peking: The Murder That Haunted the Last Days of Old China
Midnight in Peking: The Murder That Haunted the Last Days of Old China
by Paul French
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars True Crime in 1930's China, 9 Aug. 2017
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Midnight in Peking is an intriguing book which looks at the gruesome murder of Pamela Werner at the same time as the Japanese were poised to invade China.

ETC Werner was Pamela’s adoptive father, a retired Consul who was an academic of Chinese with a particular interest in mythology and language. When his daughter Pamela failed to come home that cold winter’s evening in 1937 he searched for her, sadly her mutilated body was found at the bottom of Fox Tower with her heart and other organs removed.

The book is seriously well researched with many documents examined which gives the reader the feel of the ex-pat community in Peking, and it is telling that Pamela had been ice skating before bicycling home, activities that her peers living in the UK could easily have been doing. What Paul French evocatively describes is the gated community, Legation Quarter, where most of the ex-pats lived, although not Pamela and her father who lived outside, and then there was the were the ‘Badlands’ where life was a whole lot more tawdry and where the Russians congregated eager to sample its fast food outlets and brothels. Through the whole book you can’t fault the descriptions of the places that were familiar to Pamela.
The book is of course focussed on who killed Pamela and it comes up with a valid scenario based on his combing of the archives and not least the efforts of her father who made it his mission to keep the investigation into his daughter’s death alive. ETC Werner is painted as a complex character and he clearly didn’t set out in life to win friends, indeed quite the opposite so when he bombarded anyone who he thought had power with letters full of his suspicions about the perpetrator with letter after letter. In a link to ETC Werner’s work we also hear about the Chinese superstitions which relate to the spirits that haunt Fox Tower where Pamela’s dismembered body was discovered.
Equally interesting is the history of the creeping invasion of the Japanese through China and the knock on effect that had on the ex-pat community as well as the wider implications for the Chinese. This is a slice of history that was new to me and although my geography is particularly poor this part is explained well enough that I easily followed the time-lines and could visualise the widening of the areas under Japanese control.
This is a non-fiction book although the majority of the book is very readable, however I did get bogged down in the early section of who was who in the ex-pat community in China with its lengthy section on not just who did what now but what they’d done before without any real idea of the part they would play in Pamela’s story. This is a minor criticism of a book that bought a time and place to life long after both had disappeared.

Having read the investigation carried out by the author I felt his theory worked although the fact that the case was never solved seemed to be for people in high places supressing the truth rather than it was never known. The real mystery that remains is ‘who was Pamela Warner?’ because this is a young woman, despite being represented as a school girl she was in her late teens, who was a mass of contradictions.


That Girl From Nowhere
That Girl From Nowhere
by Dorothy Koomson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars The Girl From Nowhere, 9 Aug. 2017
This review is from: That Girl From Nowhere (Paperback)
A box decorated with butterflies is all that Clemency Smittson has to link her to her birth family and she has carted the box, designed for a baby to sleep in through all the ups and downs of her life. Now it is packed into a van once more as Clemency makes the move to Brighton following the breakup of a relationship. Unfortunately her new beginning comes with unexpected baggage, her Mother is moving into the perfect flat that Clemency has found to run her business making re-loved jewellery.

A chance meeting sets off a chain of events that causes Clemency to reassess her relationships with her mother her deceased father and her new-found birth family. You can’t help but feel for someone whose life story isn’t quite what they believed it to be and yet Clemency knew she was adopted, after all her parents were white. One of my favourite scenes was when Clemency was young her father who took her to a hairdressers to learn to treat her hair properly while her mother tried to ignore the fact that her daughter had a different heritage.

As much as I felt for Clemency I have to admit my true sympathy was reserved for Clemency’s mother who bravely faces up to the fact that her daughter’s birth family also have something to offer, and I could see why she was genuinely worried about is the price Clemency might have to pay for the privilege.

The setting is brilliant with the quirky shops and seaside café complete with hunky barista. This is a Dorothy Koomson book and there are few writers that manage to play on my emotions with such a deft hand. One minute I’m furiously turning the pages to see what decisions characters are going to make while wondering how I would react in a similar situation and then BAM I’ve got a lump in my throat as a touching, but never mawkish, scene arrives leaving me struggling to swallow my cocktail.

As is often the case with this author’s books there are a number of issues explored but always with the lightest of touches leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions. The intricacy mirrors Clemency’s work to take an old and unworn pieces of jewellery and recreate them into something that the owner will wear. The smaller tales that her customers relate at the start of this process add layers to the story and serve to make the overall story seem realistic. Clemency is a real woman, with values which are challenged in numerous ways by a variety of people and as a result I was totally involved in her story despite on the surface leading a very different life with few of the concealed elements that our protagonist has to contend with.

One of the strengths of this book is that it doesn’t pretend not everything is resolved in the way of a happy-ever-after but after all, real life isn’t like that, people aren’t like that but it does finish in a way that makes you feel that Clemency in some way gets to belong in a fundamental way, something that she’s never felt before.


Death Knocks Twice
Death Knocks Twice
Price: £4.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Death in Paradise - Book 3, 9 Aug. 2017
This is the third book in the Death in Paradise series which sees this somewhat buttoned up, yet brilliant detective solve murders on the island of Saint-Marie. This gorgeous Caribbean setting has an unsettling amount of murders all of which can only be solved using lateral thinking. Yes the influence of Agatha Christie’s style of mystery novels looms large and equally as devilish.

This murder investigation is kicked off when a distressed young woman presents herself at the small police station about a prowler at the historic Beaumont coffee plantation where she lives with her parents and two brothers. The team immediately go off to investigate – or some of them do as the imposing Commander whose interests lie far more in line with the PR aspect of policing, than in detection wants whoever is selling boot-leg rum on the island apprehended immediately.

Up at the plantation DI Richard Poole and his worthy side-kick Camille are speaking to the worried Lucy Beaumont about the stalker when they hear two gun-shots. Inside the locked shower room is a body of an unidentified man. There’s no fooling DI Poole who quickly realises this is a murder and not suicide but who would have the audacity to kill a man when the police are nearby? And how did he escape from that locked room?

What follows is an old-fashioned tale with a minimal number of suspects and a fiendishly difficult puzzle to solve with plenty of red-herrings thrown into the mix. And then Death knocks again and another body is discovered in equally baffling circumstances! With no-one being quite what they seem and it quickly becoming clear that the coffee plantation, built up with the use of slaves, is not as prosperous as the family’s standing in the community might suggest DI Poole along with Camille, Fidel and Dwayne use age-old techniques to get to the bottom of the mystery. One of the things that I find really appealing about this series is the need to rely on old-fashioned police work due to the remoteness of Saint-Marie so we have DI Poole reading old FBI books to work out how to read writing on burnt paper and dusting the safe to find fingerprints in order to discover who opened it. DI Poole’s refusal to relax his standards and remove his wool suit in exchange for more suitable clothes for the Caribbean weather, well apart from the time he dons a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, complete with lace up black shoes, to go undercover and the mention of Eton really adds to the feeling that the modern world hasn’t truly reached the little island.

As is traditional the ending sees the suspects gathered together for the big reveal and although I’d worked out some parts, there were still aspects that I simply hadn’t worked out beforehand.


Shelter: A tender and captivating story of finding solace in the most troubled times
Shelter: A tender and captivating story of finding solace in the most troubled times
Price: £6.02

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A briliant story of war set in the beautiful Forest of Dean, 3 Aug. 2017
It’s springtime 1944 and two lonely people find themselves in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, both have already suffered during the war years and now, amongst the closed community of Foresters, they learn new skills while they face the next hurdle in their journey of life.

I knew as soon as I heard about this book that I wanted to read it because it is set in the Forest of Dean, the place where I grew up and in the World War II time period which is of huge interest to me, especially when it focusses on the changing role of women. Sarah Franklin surpassed my expectations weaving a story about a Lumberjill alongside that of an Italian POW.

Connie Granger hails from Coventry until the war her life was going along predictable lines, but this is a young woman who wanted more than working in the factory until she met a man and got married. Connie wants to see the world and when the Americans come to the UK there is nothing she likes more than to don her pretty dress and dance with them. Maybe one of these young men could be her ticket to seeing more than Coventry, more than helping her mother out with her younger siblings and more than the life she sees stretching before her on a path strewn with a generation of expectations. Connie veers off the path and has joined the Timbre Corps and has been sent to the Forest of Dean for her training.

Nearby Seppe is contemplating his fate in a truck transporting him to the POW camp at the top of a hill. Seppe carves wood, he is good with his hands and he’s relieved he has been captured. This was one young man who was fighting a war that he doesn’t believe in but that just means he also feels apart from many of his fellow prisoners some of whom hail from the same small town he does, a place where his father doesn’t just rule his family with a sharp tongue and an even worse bite; a whole community reveres the man.

So our two main protagonists have had a tough time with the causes not just created by the war when they are put to work in the Forest to clear the timber to keep up with the quotas demanded by the Ministry of War and we witness the struggle as Seppe and Connie make life-changing decisions
The strength in this book is not just the accurate portrayal of a community one that even when I lived their in the 80s was distinctly separate from those that surround it, at a time when for those living there leaving the Forest was a big deal, but also in the brilliant characters Sarah Franklin has created. Every character is special, these lifelike people take in not just Connie and Seppe, but the whole supporting cast from Amos whose house Connie lives in, a house where she sleeps in his son’s bed while Billy is off fighting his own war, to Joyce the next door neighbour who has a heart of gold but is no pushover, all are real people with characteristics that reminded me of the older generation of Foresters that I grew up amongst. They also give depth to a story that is both emotional and yet speaks of a generation for whom duty was threaded through their bodies despite what their hearts yearned for.

With letters home from Billy and excerpts from the paper lightly scattered in between the, at times, heart-wrenching story, there was simply so much to savour and enjoy in this historical novel.


In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences (Penguin Modern Classics)
In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Truman Capote
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.84

5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece, 30 July 2017
As a lover of true-crime it is shocking that it has taken me quite so long to read the one book which is arguably one of the best known and according to many the book which led the way. And what better way to relax than to read about the brutal slaying of a household of four with all aspects of the crime and its outcome dissected in the minutest and most vivid detail.

The book starts benignly enough as we travel to Holcomb, Kansas and view the house where the moderately wealthy Herb Clutter and his reclusive wife Bonnie lived with their teenage children Kenyon and Nancy. We see Bonnie through Truman Capote’s recreation of her following his exhaustive research dreading the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday as she is depressed but equally cautiously hopeful that the doctors have finally after years of suffering found a reason, and cure, for her depressive episodes which have seen her hospitalised more than once. We watch her prepare for bed in her beautiful home, we know what sits on her bedside table and all the time we know that this scene of troubled tranquillity will be shattered forever, and so it is.

This book is shocking but not because there are endless lurid descriptions of what happens after the foreign sounds shatter the Kansas night but because Truman Capote has so meticulously created within this new brand of true-crime a real feeling of character for all the players. We get to know the investigators, the other people in the small town who while they watch the investigators fruitless search for a motive and perpetrator and then eventually we meet Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. When we do get to know this pair, they aren’t presented as senseless criminals, we get to know them in-depth, we know what their childhoods were like and we get a sense of what may have led to that fateful November night in 1959.
It is the minutiae of the details especially when the spotlight is turned onto characters who in a straightforward account of a crime would barely get a mention that makes this book so rich, for instance we know so much about Nancy Clutter.

A stunning read which manages to simultaneously remain detached from the subject, yet so up and personal that it the story it tells isn’t with the overt disgust that the remaining Clutter family and the inhabitants of the town must have felt. So humanising is the research that Capote undertook(with the assistance of Harper Lee) that I felt some measure of sympathy, for one of the perpetrators at least, whose life had seemingly been overtaken by events. It is the contradictions of the make-up of this man which I found so troubling, it is this aspect that has lingered over the last few weeks and why I stand-up with the critics and affirm the prizes one, and confirm that In Cold Blood truly is an outstanding read.


Then She Was Gone: The Sunday Times No 1 Bestseller
Then She Was Gone: The Sunday Times No 1 Bestseller
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly dark, 28 July 2017
Laurel Mack’s daughter Ellie was on her way to the library ten years ago when she went missing. The police believed she’d run away, but there were no sightings and Laurel and her husband Paul disintegrated under the weight of not knowing what had happened to their precious youngest daughter,  a girl who was just fifteen and about to sit her GCSE’s. With Ellie predicted high grades and no known problems at home she is remembered forever as a pretty teen by her parents and her older siblings Hanna and Jake, and if truth be told, she was her mother’s favourite.

So ten years down the line when Laurel meets a friendly single father in the local café she has got used to her own company, unlike Paul who has a new wife Bonny, Laurel has not been interested in meeting someone new. And then Laurel’s introduced to Paul’s daughter Poppy who bears an uncanny resemblance to Ellie.

This is a book where the author gives enough pointers for what you assume is the answer to the main mystery fairly early on in the book and in doing so lets the characters walk off the pages and into your life where you will be hard pushed to forget them easily. But beware, not everything is quite as it seems and this novel turns out to be simultaneously a fantastic tale and yet on the other one that is entirely believable probably because the characters we meet are ones that are so realistic.

The narration is mainly done by Laurel, a woman who you can’t but help to sympathise with for her loss but also we here from Ellie, Lloyd and Noelle a strange but still realistic woman who has links to both families all of which reveal to us aspects of the tale that Laurel is blind to. The change in narrator and time periods are expertly handled and this is a psychological thriller which brilliantly hinges on the characters rather than high-octane action, making for a satisfying read because despite changes genres Lisa Jewell still writes with a sharp eye for details and emotions that we all experience while we are hopefully living slightly less dramatic lives than the characters in this book.

I highly recommend  Then You Were Gone  the perfect book to slip into the suitcase for a holiday read; I will now I sit and wait for Lisa Jewell to write her next book.


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