Wednesday 20 September 2017

S D Mayes

  A wartime story, a family story - a great story!

Letters to the Pianist link

My review - 

Ruth, her brother Gabi and sister Hannah experience the WW2 bombings in London’s East End. Ruth finds her best friend’s body in a bombed out house and eventually the children are rescued from their own bombed out home, orphans. The younger siblings go to one aunt, she to another, where she finds herself subject to the attentions of a very unpleasant uncle. Meanwhile, a man wakes in hospital knowing nothing about his former life, but discovers he is a very gifted pianist.

Though the book was quite long, it never dragged for me. It’s a riveting story and I liked the way it looked at different aspects of people’s war experience. The poor working people of the East End, the rich people who could eat and drink anything – not just the landed gentry but Ruth’s uncle who cheated his way to a pantry full of food, exploiting others. And of course, the way some people treated the Jews. It was interesting all the way through and exciting at the end. A great story!

I received an advance review copy of this book.

David Staniforth

Here's a man who writes great fantasy and excellent thrillers - and in this book, combines the two.

The Book of Maker link

My review -

Clarissa Bell buys a book in a second-hand shop. It’s blank – a rather posh notebook, it appears. She discovers that it’s possible to communicate with characters in a book. It’s also possible that you’re a character in someone else’s book. What possibilities this idea opens for a fertile mind like David Staniforth’s.

A story about a girl who hangs around bookshops – a girl who discovers the power of the written word? What’s not to like? But, as always, it’s the way he tells them. David’s got a great prose style. His ways of describing things are entirely his own and add so much to my enjoyment of his work – right from the first book of his that I read. The two realities are so believably created and the two sets of characters so sympathetic, that you’re standing behind them both and cheering them on. There are heart-stopping moments in this story and plenty of action and excitement. There’s also some dredged-up past to deal with and accept, and it all comes together to make a fantastic read. The book is probably going to be labelled as YA Fantasy because of the age of the major protagonists but there’s something in here for readers of any age. Never let a label put you off a great story!

Sunday 17 September 2017

Patrick Gale

A brilliant tale combining the past and present of a strained family life.

Rough Music paperback

My review -

Julian grows up a solitary boy, the only child in a rather straight-laced family. His father is a prison governor and Julian occasionally speaks to the prisoners. The family take a holiday in a remote seaside bungalow and are joined by his uncle and cousin. It’s as a result of what happened on that holiday that a repeat of the experience, when his cousin books the same bungalow proved traumatic for all, especially his mother with her gathering Alzheimer’s disease.

I’m a great fan of Patrick Gale’s writing. It’s elegant, sophisticated but not in the least flowery. It’s what writers should aspire to. He takes apart a family teetering on the brink of not really knowing each other, or of being in denial of what they know, and analyses their actions and deeds in an almost forensic detail. A really great book.

Friday 15 September 2017

Carol Wyer

Third in a series which I'm really getting into.

The Missing Girls link

My review -

A young girl’s body is discovered in a trunk in a storage facility. She hadn’t been reported missing by her family. DI Robyn Carter is on the case and all too soon, another young girl’s body is found, this time buried in a shallow grave. When a third girl goes missing, they are looking for a single perpetrator. Soon it comes closer to home for Robyn, as a child she knows disappears. Her team follow the social media activities of the youngsters to see if they can connect them.

This is a really well-paced story, action building upon action as we witness the detectives’ fight to tie these girls’ stories together. I enjoyed the clues along the way, though I misinterpreted some of them! I’m enjoying the exploits of DI Carter and her team and I hope to read many more of them.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Jim Webster

Another lovely collection of short stories from Port Naain. 

Tallis Steelyard. The Monster of Bell-Wether Gardens and other stories link

My review -

If you wonder what comprises the life of a jobbing poet in the town of Port Naain, this little collection of stories will give you some idea. Tallis has a finger in many a pie, arranging soirees for ladies, helping to write and distribute literary journals (and their rivals!). He assists in redistributing the town’s abundance of food and arranges for a man to experience a haunting when he’s accepted the challenge to stay overnight in a disused tower. And that’s just some of it!

Reading these stories of Jim Webster’s is like putting on your slippers and picking up a cuppa. Comfortable, and they make you smile.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Alice Castle

New to me but I'll happily read her work again.

Death in Dulwich link

My review -

Beth’s first day in her new job as archivist at Wyatt’s school is memorable for the wrong reason. Her immediate superior Dr Jenkins, the senior archivist, sees her into her office then disappears for the morning. She goes for lunch and finds him dead. Both Beth and Detective Inspector York are determined to find out who killed him. The case is surprisingly not straight forward. Nobody liked Dr Jenkins and the delightful village of Dulwich is quite put about.

Beth is intelligent and curious. She takes it upon herself, as the finder of the body, to try to solve the riddle of the death. Yes, she should have left it to the nice policeman. But really, would you? This book was full of gentle humour and sharp observation and I enjoyed it very much, despite having a bit of an idea before the end of whodunit. A great read in the cosy mystery genre.

I received a review copy of this book.

Thursday 7 September 2017

Sarah Waters

Set just after the first World War, this story is brilliantly set in its time and morality. A really gripping read.

The Paying Guests link

My review -

Frances and her mother are struggling, a few years after the Great War, to maintain their house alone. Her brothers were killed in the war and her father died following disastrous investments, leaving them unable to maintain the house or keep servants. They advertise for lodgers, whose rent will enable them to pay their food bills, if not to improve the house. The young couple seem not to have an ideal marriage and Frances hears raised voices from time to time. She and the girl, Lilian, become close and out of their burgeoning relationship comes a disaster.

This book didn’t seem as long as I know it is. I zipped through it, fascinated. So many tiny details lit up the times – buying a box of nibs, for example. While by no means a between-the-wars child I still remember dippy nibs. The story was beautifully set in its time through little things like this. The disaster, which initially welds Frances and Lilian together, changes their lives and the balance of their relationship utterly. I loved the ending which left me still with the characters and the story in my mind. Sarah Waters doesn’t spoon-feed her readers. She tells such a good story.

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Steve Roach

I've been reading Steve's work on and off for years and his stories stay in your mind!

Animals link

My review - 

I’d already read The Whaler and The Farda but bought this collection to see what other tales the author had to tell about the animal kingdom. This is no cute anthology about puppies and kittens so if that’s what you’re expecting, you’ll be disappointed. Bear in mind the author’s reputation for horror stories and you’ll be nearer the mark. Although it’s called Animals, and animals certainly feature in all the stories, the real villains in the piece seem to be ourselves. The weak link is always humanity. I very much enjoyed all these stories – in a horrid kind of way. The final story, The Ruiner, is a real roller-coaster of a tale, in which an old man creates a paradise, a garden of Eden, in the desert.

I find that many books merge into one another in my mind and after a year or so, I can’t remember what it was about, or even what I found so special about it. With Steve Roach you know you’ll never read another story like his. His work has a way of fixing itself in your mind forever. These stories are often not a comfortable read but if you want your ideas stretched and challenged, have a go. Highly recommended.