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T. SMEDLEY "terrysmedley" (Taunton UK)
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The Blasphemer
The Blasphemer
by Nigel Farndale
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and thought-provoking, excellent book!, 17 May 2010
This review is from: The Blasphemer (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This novel weaves a lot of content into it's 400-450 pages, with multiple story treads and a wide range of topics, not least religion and Darwinism! It doesn't feel disparate however, and the weaving of the scenes from the First World War are particularly well done, the way in which actions from this time influence and pop up in the contemporary storyline are subtly handled.

Our hero, Daniel, is struggling with many things in his life, following a plane crash at sea. His ultimately heroic actions are overshadowed by a simple act of self-preservation, which ultimately leads to him questioning his very nature and personal beliefs, so this is a book about redemption and how the past can never been truly forgotten, but must be accepted and allowed to make us better people.

I found this book totally engrossing form the first chapter, but it feels like a book you want to savour, so I frequently reaced points where I stopped reading and let myself absorb what has taken place, before moving on. The story concerning Daniel's great-grandfather and his French lover is particularly touching and very tenderly written, the scenes of the relationship forming, where they are clearly nervous about showing their feelings, are quite beautifully done.

There are a number of heavyweight themes in the present-time sections too, such as terrorism and fundamentalism, which are treated with the respect they deserve and are not glorified or allowed to follow predictable stereotypes. The characters around Daniel; his partner, father, daughter, best friend and colleagues are all very believable and three dimensional and all help add different aspects to Daniel's life, some good and some bad.

I wouldn't hesitate in recommending this to anyone, it does deal with some weighty topics, yet the story is allowed to be the most important thing, which is quite a skill on the part of Nigel Farndale. Gripping and quite excellent.


Acts of Violence (Macmillan New Writing)
Acts of Violence (Macmillan New Writing)
by Ryan David Jahn
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not one to restore your faith in humankind!, 18 Mar. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This novel is a very powerful, well-written piece of work and pretty bleak stuff, covering as it does a range of humankind's worst aspects; on offer here we have adultery, assisted suicide, blackmail, wife-swapping, police corruption, child abuse, racism and of course rape and murder, which is what the story centres around.

Most of these things take place in a development of flats in the course of one night and there are occasional glimpses of goodness in this sea of sin, the character of Frank being the prime example, together with the two men who 'find' each other and hopefully happiness. I found the optimism of Kat particularly upsetting and what happens to her is a truly horrific sequence of events, completely outside of her control.

Short, punchy chapters keep you turning the pages and you really can't put this down. This novel simply a snapshot in time with no real conclusions or tidy endings, but a short way into the book you feel as if you know the characters very well and in a very intimate way. The fact it's based on a true event adds to the power and the people's actions seem very real, making you imagine how you'd react in a similar situation...


Slights
Slights
by Kaaron Warren
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea, disturbing novel, nicely unsettling!, 14 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Slights (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I first spotted this book, drawn by the cover I suppose, in my local Waterstones a few months back and nearly picked it up then and there. I haven't read a contemporary horror novel for a few years which has properly hit the mark and had great expectations for this, given the premise blurb on the back.

It didn't acheive the heights I was hoping for, but was suitably disturbing and at various times sad, nasty and thought-provoking. This may be due to the fact that the novel is told solely from inside Stevie's head and a wider angle on proceedings may have fleshed things out a little. We are never quite sure how much of what goes on is in her imagination, there are times she says "this is what should have happened..." and goes on, but others where we are sure her take on actual events are twisted.

She systematically uses people and eventually drives everyone in her life away, and we pick up the story following the death of her mother and gradually learn details of her father's years before. The relationship with her brother and his wife are strained and there are some quite uneasy scenes with her neices, which ultimately proves to be the final straw and the beginning of the end for Stevie. Housemates, lovers and friends come and go during the course of the book, oh and she also kills people!

This latter actually seems a minor aspect in the grander scheme of this story, the significance of the backyard to her house is played up a lot more through Stevie's consciousness and the revleations this and her aunt's cryptic writings in the margins of her books reveals. Similarly, the supernatural aspect and her near-death experiences are just a part of life for her, something else to be investigated by her damaged mind...


That Mitchell & Webb Sound: The Complete Fourth Series
That Mitchell & Webb Sound: The Complete Fourth Series
by David Mitchell
Edition: Audio CD

5.0 out of 5 stars Clever, side-splittingly-funny, I could go on..., 13 Jan. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've been a fan of Mitchell & Webb for a good few years now, Peep Show is one of my favourite programmes on TV, getting better and better with each series and 'That Mitchell & Webb Look' is both extemely clever and very funny and rewards repeated viewing. I was aware that the latter TV series is their own work (unlike Peep Show) and stemmed from a radio show they had been doing for a number of years on Radio 4, though not being a Radio 4 listener I have never managed to hear it.

Listening to an audiobook is a somewhat new experience for me and being such a fan of theirs I decided to give this a go in the car on a recent trip to London and back (I live in Somerset). I was interested to see if the humour works as well in an audio-only context and was not disappointed. The format takes a while to get used to, I couldn't imagine just sitting at home and listening, you'd need to be doing something else, but their humour is as potent as ever and I was not disappointed.

3 discs with 3 hours is very good value and I expect to be listening again, dipping in and out, very soon. The amount of material contained here is phenomenal and maintains a very high standard throughout, illustating their genius and obviously prolific writing. It's also nice to have familiar voices, such as the ever-present Olivia Colman, pop up and I look forward to perhaps seeing some of these sketches appear in forthcoming a series of the TV show.


The Missing
The Missing
by Jane Casey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.58

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and very clever thriller, 13 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The Missing (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
You can have too much of 'gripping crime novels' and I've read more than a few over the last couple of years, amongst my usual intake of books, and was getting a little tired of the genre; its standard plots and twists, convenient developments, etc.... Despite this I was soon hooked on this novel, as fundamentally this is very tightly written and has a slightly different angle, being told from the point of view of Sarah Fich, a 20-something living alone with her alcoholic mother, who appears to have her life on hold.

Sarah becomes involved with the disappearance and murder of 12 year old Jenny Shepherd, having been her English teacher and then by subsequently finding her body. Sarah's own brother disappeared when she was a child and was never found, so she becomes involved with the investigation, both emotionally and unwittingly on a practical level, much to the seeming irritation of DCI Vickers, the investigating officer. Her connections are plausable and there are no contrived or convenient plot leaps, things move along quickly, but the story is well paced.

Sarah is a complex woman with more than a few skeletons in her closet and I found the short flashback sequences between each chapter helped the story greatly, fleshing out her character nicely. It wasn't overdone, the flashbacks being short snap-shots and we were quickly back to the main story, a little more informed of her past each time and the significant episodes it contains. Her development over the course of the novel is no great revelation, we know this is a necessary process for her.

There are a number of dark issues and themes to this novel, it is gritty and frighteningly realistic, but doesn't feel at all sensationalist. Sarah's links to the crime comitted and how this ties in with her own brother and splintering of her family become clear towards the end and is genuinely disturbing. We genuinely feel for her character and the position she ultimately finds herself in in the finale. Overall, a very satisfying read, thought provoking and one that will stay with you.


The Cry Of The Sloth
The Cry Of The Sloth
by Sam Savage
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A snapshot of descent into madness, 9 Dec. 2009
This review is from: The Cry Of The Sloth (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I was looking forward to reading this book, the blurb on the back and review of the author's previous novel making me feel this may be something a bit different and an interesting read. I quickly worked out that this is a series of letters and assorted writings from our protagonist, Andrew Whittaker. I was helped in this realisation by the subtitle on the title page: "The mostly tragic story of Andrew Whittaker being his collected, final and absolutely complete writings"!

This isn't a particularly easy read, it is quite disjointed, but you quickly get into the format and what unfolds is a fundamentally sad tale of Andrew's deterioration. We get the impression this has been happening for a while, but is slowly escallating into his complete isolation from society. There are moments of humour and quiet victory, but these ultimately serve to only exaggerate his decline.

The letters he writes to his ex-wife, former college friends and other literary publications are only one side of the story, I found myself wishing to see any replies he may have received. There are also letters written under psuedonyms and others in reply to these, which is a little odd, but it works. The snippets of his increasingly bizarre life and how he uses this information depending on who he is writting to was also a nice touch.

I did enjoy this book in a fashion and was glad I persevered, but it left me somewhat relieved to reach the end.


Underwater
Underwater
by Elizabeth Diamond
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Takes a while, but gets there in the end..., 14 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Underwater (Hardcover)
This is a fairly engrossing book and centres around a middle aged woman Jane, who when we meet her, is separated from her husband, recovering from cancer and flirting with suicide. Initially Jane is not a particularly likeable character, she comes across as self-obsessed and wallowing in self pity. The book is rather slow to start and these early chapters set the scene more than anything else.

As the novel progresses we learn Jane is also estranged from the remainder of her family, including her elderly mother, disabled son and that her brother's disappearance when they were teenagers weighs heavilly on her mind, taking most of her thoughts. The story then becomes one of Jane recollecting and acknowledging the events of her childhood and how these have affected the whole course of her life.

Things pick up at this point and the revelations come thick and fast, the web of lies she has woven around herself and those close to her being gradually untangled. It is all quite plausable however and I won't spoil things by giving any details away, but despite a few hiccups and dead-ends Jane completes her journey a better person. Some events along the way seem a little too convenient plot-wise, but some are genuinely sad and we see Jane's hard exterior cracking.

Overall then, a very satisfying book, much better than some I have read in this genre and I'd definitely consider picking another up by Elizabeth Diamond on the basis of this.


Island Of Lost Girls
Island Of Lost Girls
by Jennifer McMahon
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Small towns and little girls, 2 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Island Of Lost Girls (Paperback)
I see some people have criticised this book quite strongly, but personally I found it fairly engrossing and a satisfying read and would therefore recommend it quite highly. The small New England community it is set in is very well portrayed by the author, most people seem to know everyone and their business, as is the way in many a small town. Of course there are secrets and things which go on beyond normal perception...

There is a lot of symbolism and many recurring themes which run through this novel, Peter Pan, submarines, rabbits, to name but a few and I found the flashback segments to 1993 worked very well, giving background and an increasing sense of foreboding to the handful of main characters; Rhonda, Peter, Tock and Lizzie. We see them at a crucial age when you pretty much choose which path your life will go down, and how these actions and choices they made subsequently make them the adults they have become.

Our main character Rhonda is fundamentally a lonely person, really quite naive, and she doesn't always see things how she should have. The behaviour of the group of friends, in particular Lizzie, their collective parents and the events which took place in 1993 are seen from a child's perspective and the duration of the present-day chapters of the novel are as much a process of realisation and awakening for Rhonda as it is for us.

There is a nice creepy atmosphere to the book, but I felt this could have been made more of and the contemporary part of the story lacks the power of the flashback segments, so this loses the extra star for me, I'm afraid.


The Salati Case
The Salati Case
by Tobias Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, fast-paced thriller, 14 Sept. 2009
This review is from: The Salati Case (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's been a while since I read this kind of book, as I feared the success of the Da Vinci Code and it's like would spawn of whole host of copycat novels with increasingly diminishing returns. Hence my expectation for this was not great, particularly with the setting being Italy.

However, this is an enjoyable read and carries you along at a good pace, with no distracting flashbacks of breaks in continuity. Our hero, Castagnetti, is single-minded and shrouded in mystery to a large part, I'm sure this will be developed upon in further books featuring his character, as I wouldn't be surprised if this isn't the first in a series.

His approach to the case he is dealing with is believable and has the odd dead-end, there are no big revelations or far-fetched breakthroughs and this is where the strength of the book lies: Castagnetti comes accross as human, he makes mistakes, gets in tricky situations (plus a good beating at one point) and at other times feels like he is banging his head against a wall. And we are there with him at every step.

The setting is also very atmospheric, Jones does not take us on a roller-coaster ride of historic Rome, this is just a PI wandering round a series of small, rural Italian towns, clothed in mist and confusion. The Italian names had me thinking I would confuse characters, but surprisingly this didn't happen, perhaps as these are well drawn and I suppose there are relatively few additional characters for this type of book.

Overall then, not anything ground-breaking, but an enjoyable way to spend a few evenings. The story itself is intriguing enough and the delving into a family's past and various skeletons in the closets makes for a good read.


The Art of Losing
The Art of Losing
by Rebecca Connell
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Short book, but very powerful all the same, 23 Aug. 2009
This review is from: The Art of Losing (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I read this book in 3 sittings, which is quite quick for me, as I usually like to take my time and savour a book (and get some sleep, as I generally read before bed!) I was drawn in pretty quickly and couldn't put it down at times, and while the alternating chapters and flashback sequences idea is hardly original (Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees do this particularly well), it works very effectively here.

We are introduced to Laura; a troubled, naive and lonely young woman who's on a mission, but what she's ultimately after is unclear, (most upsettingly) even to herself. Her integration into Nicholas' life and the lengths she goes to show her desperation for understaning of her mother's death and Nicholas' involvement. The fact she takes on her mother's name illustrates this rather well.

I won't go into the story itself at length, the product description above tells you all you need to know; it is how effectively the characters are drawn and how quickly you feel for them that makes this book. The flashback sections, detailing the affair of Nicholas and Lydia, is particularly poignant and bittersweet and makes it all seem both very real and inevitable.

These feel like real people and the tone of the book is not judgmental of their actions, just portraying the events for what they are and how the repercussions can affect so many lives. Even with this, the lesser characters in the novel do not suffer, Naomi's character, for example, is well developed and complex, Martin is rather tragic and these details add greatly to the story as a whole.

To sum up then, a gripping read and I would recommend this most highly, just put aside a few hours before you start reading!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 20, 2010 11:51 AM GMT


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