Set in the early 1930s, this intriguing novel, based on a real-life case, follows the progress of Walter Bruce, a door-to-door insurance saleman, as hSet in the early 1930s, this intriguing novel, based on a real-life case, follows the progress of Walter Bruce, a door-to-door insurance saleman, as he tries to stage the perfect murder of his wife. His motive? The diagnosis of a terminal illness that will kill him sooner if he does not escape the stress of living with her. Discovering dark secrets about this wife steels his determination to be rid of her, and he blackmails two others into helping him commit the crime. Despite strategic thinking powers nurtured by his passion for chess, Bruce’s plan misfires, and he must face the consequences. While it’s difficult to warm to any of the characters, the omniscient narrator makes it easy to understand Bruce’s motivation and actions. At times the story reads like journalism, telling rather than showing, particularly during the courtroom scenes, but although that approach is often decried in fiction, it actually worked rather well here. Although I disliked Bruce, I also felt very sorry for him, constrained in the narrow world of his time and class. His dreary world of lower-middle-class suburbia offers no real hope of betterment, and he only deludes himself when he tries to improve his lot. Hamilton evokes the era very well, weaving the atmosphere and practical details seamlessly into the narrative. At every turn one is struck by the contrast of between the 1930s and the present day, especially in terms of communication technology and social mobility. Although phone calls were traceable from public call boxes, detectives had little other than their wits and circumstantial evidence to help them solve crimes. The essential story, however, is timeless. Incidentally, I particularly liked the production values and cover design of this book – the chess board in a subdued, slightly sinister colourway, with an outline of a dead body and a splash of blood, is very effective.
(Reviewed for the Historical Novel Association Indie Reviews) ...more
I really wanted to like this book, for lots of reasons. I love the Golden Age of Crime Fiction - Sayers, Christie etc - and I thought the concept of hI really wanted to like this book, for lots of reasons. I love the Golden Age of Crime Fiction - Sayers, Christie etc - and I thought the concept of having a series presumably intended to travel eventually to every county was genius. I also liked the opening chapter, getting to know Stephen Sefton and his background fighting in the Spanish Civil War - what a great foil to cosy mystery detection in England and one that could add real depth and a greater sense of England's place on the world stage in the 30s, an era that I find fascinating and compelling.
But the promise of the initial chapters and set-up of Sefton as a sidekick to an eccentric professor with a beautiful, feisty daughter was never fulfilled. Lots of things quickly went wrong: Professor Morley swiftly turned from engaging to annoying, and while I suspect he was meant to appear to be a Holmesian character with quirks but depth, we never got to see the depth, discovering why he is so obsessive about facts and such a compulsive writer, why his morals and judgement are as they are, what happened to his wife, why does his daughter still live with him, what is the nature of their relationship. The daughter, Miriam, who I really liked, disappears to London for most of the book, abandoning Sefton and Morley in Norfolk, and I don't blame her. We are also never told why Morley needs Sefton as a sidekick anyway - he never does anything useful except stand around smoking, drinking and trying to pick up any vaguely attractive woman that looks twice at him. Dr Watson may not have Holmes' sharp detective skills, but saves Holmes' bacon and his sanity frequently, and there is a clear and touching dependency. Not so with Morley and Sefton.
In what little there is of the plot contains too many unbelievable incidents, e.g. (plot spoiler alert): the sex scene, the vicar's suicide, the girl's setting fire to herself, Morley taking to the pulpit at the end of the service and revealing his take on the vicar's death (who for some unknown reason is bizarrely referred to by everyone as "the reverend" and never "the vicar"). I live in a small village where lots of mad and quirky things happen, and I often think "you couldn't make this up", but even to me this story was just ridiculous. I was also bewildered by the inclusion of archaic photos of rural Norfolk which looked as if they'd been chosen to make the place look especially dull and characterless. If I was a native of Norfolk, I would not be pleased. Developing a more flattering depiction of Norfolk - and, to be fair, Morley's endless ramblings about detail do add a spark of interest in a county I know little about - could have turned this into a local bestseller boosting tourism, which may not be any novelist's prime artistic aim, but it's a smart way to sell more books. A valuable trick missed.
The story could have been so much better, if only there had been some character development, some depth to Morley, and a more believable plot, which could easily have been spun from the same starting point. The author's missed another trick in not setting up an on-and-off relationship between Sefton and Miriam, which would have added interest, fun, and another layer, and had readers clamouring for his next book in the series to see what happens next between them. Such a shame, as the author can clearly write well, and a much better book was within his grasp. I'm tempted to try the next in the series to see whether he's got a grip there, but am wary of wasting my time and finding further disappointment. I don't want to have it confirmed that the prime purpose of the series is not to entertain readers but to demonstrate the author's own erudition and vast general knowledge, thinly veiled in false irony. Disappointing....more
Enjoyed reading it, as I always enjoy spending time with M C Beaton and her characters, but this wasn't one of her best - a lot of driving back and foEnjoyed reading it, as I always enjoy spending time with M C Beaton and her characters, but this wasn't one of her best - a lot of driving back and forth and going round knocking on people's doors, and not much excitement - though I did find the new character Mrs Tripp entertaining. ...more
I particularly wanted to read this novel to learn more about the dynamics of the modern Greek family and the status of women, as on holidays in GreeceI particularly wanted to read this novel to learn more about the dynamics of the modern Greek family and the status of women, as on holidays in Greece I'd got the impression that it was still quite an unequal society, and I wanted to get a better understanding before I went on holiday there recently.
Reading "My Big Greek Family" was enlightening in this regard, and it also made me very sympathetic towards the younger generation of Greek women who are trying to change old-fashioned attitudes. While respecting their families and their traditional values, they resent being constrained by their parents' expectations of arranged marriages to Greek men.
The story here concerns Greeks living in London, but within a traditional Greek family set-up, with pressure put upon the three sisters to remain in the parental home until they marry, even when they are earning good money in high-powered jobs. The three grown-up daughters in the story have very different personalities and careers, but each wants more freedom than their parents are willing to grant. During the course of the book, they change and grow, gaining the courage to be true to themselves. Sharing a holiday in Greece away from their parents allows them the distance they need to make that leap. It's a gentle story that will appeal to anyone interested in family life in a different cultural setting, and while it's not exactly action-packed, it's an agreeable and thought-provoking read.
Setting the story partly in London and partly in Greece added another level of interest: the issue of belonging for the extensive Greek diaspora (or indeed any other diaspora). While in London they seem very Greek, but in Greece they feel rather like tourists.
I enjoyed getting to know the characters of not only the sisters, their brother and their parents, and their relationship with their extended family who also live in London but maintain their Greek identity and habits. The description of their uncle's eccentric repairs to household appliances is priceless. I especially loved the portrayal of Christina, the girls' mother, who has never perfected her English and speaks an endearingly fractured version. I enjoyed the way that the author demonstrated her language by her choice of words, and the odd missing letters here and there, rather than trying to write an accented English phonetically (one of my pet hates in a novel). It was really effective and very charming. Her running battle with next door's cat, Rambo, is especially funny.
I really liked the balance of this book: the Greek traditions are respected and treated with affection, but gently portrayed as out of keeping with 21st century like. I know the author is a Greek Cypriot herself, so I'm now wondering what her own family made of her story......more
A pleasing romantic comedy that tells the story of a community's fight to save their street - the Cupid's Way of the title - from demolition.
RevolvingA pleasing romantic comedy that tells the story of a community's fight to save their street - the Cupid's Way of the title - from demolition.
Revolving around the nearly-30 heroine Evie Stone is a varied cast of characters of all ages. I especially enjoy the way Phillips weaves interesting and dignified elderly characters into her books, adding depth to the romantic themes played out by younger people at the heart of her stories.
The story's not only about the seemingly doomed romance sparked in the early part of the book between Evie, campaigning to save her grandparents' home, and handsome Michael, CEO of the company bent on demolishing it. There are also other romantic themes - the relationship between her spirited grandparents, for example - and themes about identity, recognising who you are and being unafraid to embrace it. The ending is satisfying and heartwarming - but I'm not giving any plot spoilers here!
So why only four stars, not five, as so many others have given it, at the time of this review?
Unlike Phillips' previous books, Cupid's Way is set in Bristol, a city I've lived and worked in, and while Phillips makes clear the interesting contrast of old and new buildings and the presence of ancient architecture nestled among the state-of-the-art, some of the geographical references were a little bit hazy, e.g. specifying which of Bristol's train stations Evie comes into (they're very different) and terms such as "the Bristol bypass" (there isn't one), which occasionally broke the spell for me. People who don't know the city might consider I'm being a bit harsh here - sorry about that!
Disclosure: I know the author personally and received a free copy as a gift, but not with a specific request for a review)....more
I came across this book after sending out a manuscript of my imminent collection of flash fiction stories, "Quick Change", to beta readers, and I wasI came across this book after sending out a manuscript of my imminent collection of flash fiction stories, "Quick Change", to beta readers, and I was keen to read it to make sure I hadn't made any terrible blunders!
It is a quick but helpful and worthwhile read, covering very much more than the writer's relationship with beta readers. It addresses the whole process of fine-tuning a manuscript for completing the first draft to hitting the "publish" button (or the query with publishers/agents process, if you're going the traditional route rather than self-publishing).
The author is an experienced novelist (publishing those books under a different name) and can relate easily both to the nervous beginner writer and the seasoned pro. She shares lots of great advice for self-editing to get your ms the best it can be - and also warns against things that will hamper your progress (never try to self-edit for too long in one session, or self-edit when you're tired). She also explains why certain tips make sense, such as why you should put your manuscript aside for a month before starting the self-editing process: to guard against the short-term memory that will prevent you from spotting mistakes.
I agreed with the vast majority of her tips, though not all - for example, she recommends using Grammarly as a virtual extra editor for your work. My experiments with Grammarly made me give up on it as laughably inaccurate, but maybe it's been enhanced since I last tried it. I also wasn't sure of taking her advice on some of her software recommendations, as they come across as a very personal choice rather than a comprehensive assessment of what's out there, but hey, that's the author's prerogative.
I think this book deserves more readers than it seems to have had so far - I was surprised to find that I'd be the first to review it here. I think it's hampered by the slightly inaccurate title. Beta reading is an important area that many new writers don't know about, so it's good to focus on them here. But to me the book read more like a guide to making your book the best it can be for the end users - your final readers, post-publication, and beta-readers are only a small though invaluable part of that process. I'd be interested to know whether it would be likely to be more high profile with a broader title.
Title notwithstanding, it's a useful read, with great tips in a readable, reassuring style, by someone who's been there, done that, and is still doing it - as writer, editor and beta-reader. Definitely a worthwhile purchase for any author....more
Having enjoyed and found helpful Jessica Bell's "In A Nutshell" series of writing guides, I was looking forward to reading this one, not least becauseHaving enjoyed and found helpful Jessica Bell's "In A Nutshell" series of writing guides, I was looking forward to reading this one, not least because I am at the polishing stages of a book of my own which is due out on 21st June (a collection of flash fiction called "Quick Change"). I've spent most of my working life needing to edit written copy, whether for business reports, PR materials or journalism, yet this book offered plenty of new advice that I'm sure I'll find useful.
The biggest surprise for me was her advice to pick off one aspect of your writing at a time, e.g. dialogue tags ("He said", "She murmured" etc) or chapter endings, and perfect them. This means going through your work multiple times to effect a single edit - but it sounds like a very effective approach.
It's also a great book for the 21st century writer, because it harnesses tricks from Word to help you fine-tune your prose, e.g. search and replace, rather than relying on your own eye.
As a career editor, she's not afraid to debunk commonly held myths about writing, e.g. the old saying "murder your darlings". With her characteristic incisive Australian wit, she advises "If everyone killed all their darlings, they'd have no family left".
The format is a really practical working guide, full of checklists to help you put into practice the author's top tips. Having bought the Kindle edition of this book, I'm now going to order the paperback, because it's going to have a permanent place on my writing desk whenever I'm at the editing stage. Enough said.
Disclosure: I do know the author personally as we both belong to the Alliance of Independent Authors (I'm quoted in the back, in the heartening section in which authors confess their biggest editing errors), but I bought my copy direct from Amazon and Jessica Bell didn't solicit this review, nor does she know I'm writing it!...more
Having enjoyed the first two books in Alison Morton's Roma Nova series, I was very pleased to receive an early review copy of the third, which picks uHaving enjoyed the first two books in Alison Morton's Roma Nova series, I was very pleased to receive an early review copy of the third, which picks up Carina Mitela's story some years on when her eldest daughter Allegra is a teenager. When a new threat befalls Carina and her fascinating country, the slick thriller action familiar from her previous adventures kicks off, but this time with added depth from the continuing development of her family relationships as the next generation matures. I loved the well-drawn characterisation of both the youngest players and the oldest generation, Aurelia and Quintus, and the further development of their relationships with Carina and her husband Conrad. As ever, the action scenes were well-paced and exciting, with the castle scene towards the end especially graphic and gripping. As a Londoner, I also enjoyed the part of the action that took place in the UK. This book - and indeed the whole series - is surely just asking to be made into a movie! I was interested to see that the planned book 4 (or should I say IV?!) will focus on the wonderful Aurelia's back story - I'm really looking forward to getting to know her better. Thank you, Alison Morton, for another great read....more
A sweet little tale of a woman who goes to heaven and discovers it to be very similar to earth - except it offers you the chance to make up for mistakA sweet little tale of a woman who goes to heaven and discovers it to be very similar to earth - except it offers you the chance to make up for mistakes made when mortal and to continue to help both those who have died and those you have left behind. I love the idea of the gates to heaven being guarded by "The Boss's Head of Security" and the cartwheeling guardian angel who helps new arrival Geraldine get to grips with the system. I also liked the colour-changing auras of the characters as they went discoveries and transformations. Heartwarming, amusing and with a gentle message to make the most of what you have while you're on earth. Recommended....more
I was sent a free review copy of this book by the author, and was very glad, because I really enjoyed it and couldn't put it down.
I like to think I'mI was sent a free review copy of this book by the author, and was very glad, because I really enjoyed it and couldn't put it down.
I like to think I'm well-travelled, but reading Christine Osborne's account made me sound positively sedentary. After spending most of her life on the move as a multi-talented travel writer and photographer,she has written a very personal account of trips over the last few decades to places that are more for travellers than tourists, because they are not only distant but dangerous too, especially for women travelling on their own - North Africa, the fringes of Pakistan, and strict Muslim countries in the Middle East.
While confessing that the lifestyle is lonely and isolating, she makes it clear that her passion for travel is what she lives for and reading her account you can understand why she's unable to settle. She is fascinated not only by the places but by the people, whom she befriends and helps wherever she can. I particularly enjoyed her accounts of meeting the Blue Men of the Sahara and villagers in Pakistan, and at the other extreme, of striking up acquaintance with the Queen and Prince Philip when part of the royal tour press pack.
Her anchor in her travels is her mother, back in Australia, which she never leaves, and it is touching to read their letters to each other at the end of the book, her mother proud if a little perplexed by her daughter's life choices, daughter mindful of her mother's small domestic challenges though her own life is so much more hazardous.
I must admit that if I had paid for the book, I would have been a little startled by the list price (£7+ as I write this) but it's definitely worth the money. Think of it as a ticket to places you're never likely to travel and can now experience in depth without leaving the comfort of your fireside chair - my preferred way to travel to dangerous places!
This book reminded me of Tro-Tros and Potholes by Laura Enridge, another fearless woman traveller who writes with compassion about her journeys to Africa (and elsewhere on her blog)....more
If I hadn't known that Orna Ross also writes poetry, I'd have guessed it from the lyrical flow and language of this compelling contemporary novel. BreIf I hadn't known that Orna Ross also writes poetry, I'd have guessed it from the lyrical flow and language of this compelling contemporary novel. Breathtakingly powerful phrases pepper the pages, little puffs of magic whose brilliance takes you by surprise.
The novel's ambitious structure hops smoothly between timeframes, and between Ireland and the USA. Its interesting characters develop convincingly, all products of their family, their heritage and their time, no matter how much they try to shake those factors off. Calmly, bravely and effectively the author tackles difficult, taboo topics (which I won't name here for fear of spoiling the plot), adding enormous breadth to the central theme of the story: the development of a mother-daughter relationship. There were also some extraordinary surprises as the reader is brought full circle from the opening scene of conflict to the unexpected but oddly satisfying resolution.
A truly literary modern novel that raises the bar for modern family dramas, this book put me in mind of the only other book that I can remember reading at a single sitting, transported by its writing style: Virgina Woolf's "Mrs Dalloway".
I hugged my own daughter for a long time after I finished reading this book....more