The Amorous Nightingale is the second in Edward Marston's series of six Reformation Era crimSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
The Amorous Nightingale is the second in Edward Marston's series of six Reformation Era crime mysteries, each of which feature the unlikely detective pairing of architect Christopher Redmayne with constable Jonathan Bale. I haven't yet read the first book in the series, but the few brief nods to its storyline are adequately explained here so I didn't feel as though I was missing information about the characters or their previous lives. The paperback edition I read had fairly large font and wide page margins so, despite this being a 372 page book, it was a quick read which I happily devoured over the course of an afternoon. The kidnapping mystery was convoluted enough to maintain my interest, but without being too taxing.
Where Marston excels, I felt, was in his portrayals of 1660s London. The city is far smaller than its present-day incarnation, even more so as the Great Fire destroyed thousands of homes only a year or so before our story takes place. Through the investigations and exploits of Redmayne, Bale and their friends we get to see varied streets, homes and characters from the no-longer-quite-as-divine King Charles II himself to the thugs and prostitutes who scrape a living on the docksides. I loved Marston's descriptions of the rich males outrageously fashionable outfits and also appreciated Jonathan Bale's crushed Puritan hopes - Cromwell's Commonwealth having existed still well within living memory.
The Amorous Nightingale is more of an entertaining crime mystery than a serious historical novel. I would have liked more depth to the characterisation because I felt we often had too large a cast at the expense of their individual believability. That said, I did enjoy this story and would happily seek out the further (and earlier!) books in this series....more
The Girl Who Reads On The Metro is a cute little novel which is being marketed towards 'fansSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
The Girl Who Reads On The Metro is a cute little novel which is being marketed towards 'fans of The Little Paris Bookshop and The Elegance of the Hedgehog'. Personally, I'd substitute Waiting For Monsieur Bellivier for the second of those two. I liked losing myself in this story and could certainly empathise with both Juliette and Soliman's desire to hide in books rather than facing up to the real world. I loved the idea of the passeurs who give out books to strangers based on their perceived need for a specific tome. Even BookCrossing gets a mention leading to characters discussing the journeys books make from reader to reader.- one of the big benefits of paper books over digital editions.
I often felt that I wanted this novel to take bigger risks. Like its main character, Juliette, I felt the narrative seemed too reserved and nervous for the themes it tried to explore. Feret-Fleury's characters are displaced persons either mentally because they do not feel as though they fit within their environments, or physically because they are exiled from their home nation. Communication failures lead to isolation which, despite frequent assurances to the contrary during the story, can't always be solved by starting to read a book. Well, not for everyone anyway!
For me, The Girl Who Reads On The Metro was a nice diversion for a rainy afternoon, but I felt this novel could have been so stronger if its ideas were more fully developed. Hints of magical realism could have been given full rein and side characters such as Chloe and the Woman with the Recipe Book allowed to really blossom. I liked the story but ended up feeling underwhelmed!...more
Jamie Stewart's short story, Alfie And The Dead Girls, might clock in at less than forty pagSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Jamie Stewart's short story, Alfie And The Dead Girls, might clock in at less than forty pages, but it really punches above its weight - a deliciously chilling tale that I very much enjoyed reading. Obviously there isn't space for detailed scene setting or in depth character analysis, however I was impressed by Stewart's ability to concisely put across emotions and ideas. A strength of this story, I thought, is that it frequently prompted me to let my imagination jump ahead. Stewart's sharp changes of tack were then very unsettling and, therefore, perfectly suited to the thrilling atmosphere he has created! On the downside, I would have liked stronger proofreading as errors often distracted me. That said however, I felt Alfie And The Dead Girls was a good introduction to Stewart's writing and I look forward to starting his full length novel, Mr Jones, soon....more
I was concerned, on starting this novel, by the proportion of truly terrible reviews it has.See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I was concerned, on starting this novel, by the proportion of truly terrible reviews it has. There are many five-stars, but also a significant proportion of one-stars. Having enjoyed McGregor's earlier novel, If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things, though, I wanted to read this one as well and fairly soon realised why Reservoir 13 causes such division amongst reviewers. The story starts with the disappearance of Rebecca, a teenage girl, so convention has it that this event should soon be followed by the appearance of a Dysfunctional Detective, possibly with a tenuous Personal Connection to the case, and culminate in an against-the-clock race to save another Innocent Victim. McGregor steers well clear of all these tropes! Instead he tells the stories of the village from which the girl disappeared in the thirteen years following her disappearance. It's a beautiful portrait of a community ripped open and then finding its heart again, but I think more suited to fans of Robert McFarlane than, say, Lauren Carr.
I loved McGregor's inclusion of the natural world rhythms alongside people's lives and traditions. Fox cubs learn to play as swallows arrive and then depart. Cricket matches are lost, harvest festival altars decorated, and the well must be dressed. It often seems as though Rebecca (or Becky or Bex) has been forgotten, but the effect of her tragedy is long-lasting. She is at the centre of the novel both for what happened and in time. She was thirteen at the beginning of this book and McGregor chronicles the next thirteen years, one per chapter, which I felt gave a good sense of balance to the story. The villagers are reminded by news crews descending on significant anniversaries or the rarely-seen presence of her mother. However, they also have their own lives to live and McGregor's observations of daily minutiae is superb. A wonderful and wonderfully unexpected novel!...more
I've previously read one Lars Saabye Christensen novel, The Model, which I quite enjoyed, buSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I've previously read one Lars Saabye Christensen novel, The Model, which I quite enjoyed, but not as much as this author's reputation made me feel I should. So I was eager to give this new Don Bartlett translation of Christensen's Echoes Of The City a try. This novel is already being called his masterpiece and I can understand why it is garnering such acclaim, although I wasn't so moved by it myself. The gently meandering story is set in Oslo in the years following the Second World War as the city's people attempt to overcome the immediate past and look to the future. It will soon be Oslo's 900th anniversary which must be celebrated although ideas differ about exactly what or who should be the central focus. I felt that Echoes Of The City had a strong sense of poignant melancholy to it. Almost a huzun nostalgia (if you've read Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul). Much of the atmosphere comes from small actions such as a woman trying on a Dior New Look dress that she will never be able to afford or a child unwittingly selling Red Cross stamps for the wrong price. Interspersing the chapters with reports from local Red Cross meetings adds to the sense of people, especially women, being desperate to improve their lives and their society, but without the means to do so on enough of a scale to effect real change.
I think I would be more enthusiastic about Echoes Of The City if it hadn't been quite such a long book. The pace is very slow throughout. It is beautifully written though so I could appreciate individual scenes and loved Christensen's clarity of vision in portraying his characters. However, at half way through the novel I was already finding I was forcing myself to pick it up again to read just a couple more chapters. For a voracious reader such as m, this is practically unheard of! I didn't want to abandon the novel because, as I have said, it has good points and I wanted to find out what happened in the end. I just wich the end could have come a hundred or so pages sooner....more
In the front of Time Is A Killer readers are told that Michel Bussi is the second-best-selliSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
In the front of Time Is A Killer readers are told that Michel Bussi is the second-best-selling author in France and has won sixteen literary awards. Unfortunately, I couldn't see much evidence of that acclaim in this novel. The book is not a complete waste of time to read, but sadly I was mostly underwhelmed! To start with the positives, I appreciated the vivid descriptions of rugged Corsican scenery and glimpses into the history and culture of the island. I also enjoyed reading fifteen year old Clothilde's notebook entries which is how the 1989 storyline is told. An self-absorbed and exasperating teenager, she reminded me a lot of myself at that age so I could easily empathise with her awkwardness and vulnerability. Occasionally her physical observations of other female characters sounded more like the thoughts of a middle-aged man(!), but overall I liked young Clothilde and got happily involved in her late 1980s world. The slightly older teenage group she yearns to join were believable and their summer shenanigans made for entertaining reading.
Adult Clothilde is basically a non-character though. I understand that the shocking deaths of her entire immediate family would have had major repercussions on her mental health, but twenty-seven years later, the grown-up woman doesn't seem to actually have a personality at all. Occasionally she remembers she is a lawyer and fills lawyer-y tropes such as marching uninvited into police stations and shouting at people, but mostly she is an object for other characters to revolve around. I found this very disappointing, especially as most of them aren't exactly fully rounded creations either.
The 2016 storyline didn't do much for me either. I know I usually find that mass market thrillers stretch my credulity, but this one lurches from barely plausible to utterly ludicrous and beyond! Perhaps if the narrative kept up enough of a pace that I didn't had time to reflect, then I might have been sufficiently swept into the excitement to let unbelievable moments pass. That isn't the case though. Bussi has characters repeatedly stop to ponder before they leap into yet more unrealistic stunts. I think Time Is A Killer must have been written with one eye on the film rights rather the creation of a coherent novel. I liked a third of the book as a nostalgic beach read, but the remaining two-thirds just didn't work for me at all....more
This collection of eleven short stories by Rose Tremain is absolutely brilliant! Usually I fSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
This collection of eleven short stories by Rose Tremain is absolutely brilliant! Usually I find such collections can be somewhat hit and miss, but I think I can confidently say here that every story is a gem. I loved their dark tinges and mysteries as well as the variety of locations and characters. Tremain completely understands human nature so I felt connected to each of her utterly believable characters, even though I only had a limited time in which to get to know any of them before their story ended and another began.
My favourite stories were the Agincourt one where a Herald riding between the French Dauphin and the English King Henry is reminded of a similar ride, three years before, to see his beloved; The Unoccupied Room where a woman wakes up alone in an apartment which she soon realises is no longer hers; and Niagara where an elderly couple struggle to cope with the husband's increasing anger at the world.I did love all eleven stories so picking just three to highlight was tricky and I'm already wondering whether to change the choices! If you have been disappointed by short stories in the past then Evangelina's Fan and Other Stories will hopefully rekindle your enthusiasm for the genre, and if you're already a fan then this collection is a must read....more
My second Inspector Littlejohn novel after A Knife For Harry Dodd and folks who only read seSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
My second Inspector Littlejohn novel after A Knife For Harry Dodd and folks who only read series in the right order should probably glance away now because A Knife was book 8 and this is book 2. Fortunately my scattergun approach to reading them doesn't seem to matter because we hardly see anything of the recurring characters personal lives so there's no overarching storyline to spoil and each novel has been an entirely self contained story.
I loved this mill town mystery with its class clashes and neighbours twitching their net curtains at every opportunity. The Case Of The Demented Spiv gives us a convincing portrait of post-war England with rationing still in evidence and most people living pretty austere lives. Of course, the time period does bring a few problems with examples of dated attitudes. I was surprised by how modern Bellairs' portrayal of his female characters is - one is even a dab with a sword! But the mental health representation isn't ideal - you might already have guessed that from the title - and I found examples of casual antisemitism to be offensive. The eponymous Spiv of the early chapters morphs into The Jew later on for no reason I could see other than its derogatory implications.
If you can look past those issues though, I would recommend The Case Of The Demented Spiv as a good period piece. The mystery itself is wonderfully intricate with a good mix of red herrings and genuine clues. The varied cast of characters are great fun and the opening scene in the Oddfellows Arms pub is perfect. If you've never visited a traditional English pub, this is what you're missing! I'm looking forward to reading more Inspector Littlejohn mysteries in due course. I know I've got at least six more to catch up to Harry Dodd and hope they will all be as satisfying as The Demented Spiv....more
I featured Fate in a Books From The Backlog post in June last year, having bought it in NoveSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I featured Fate in a Books From The Backlog post in June last year, having bought it in November 2015 and not read it. Now, nearly four years after its purchase, I finally read this book and I did enjoy it! Despite its cover art, this is not a Red Riding Hood retelling, but rather a fantasy quest novel with a delightfully strong feminist slant. Our heroine, Asher, is living under a double oppression firstly within an occupied country and secondly from social conventions with have reduced women's roles in her society to either mothers or decorations. Asher's railing against both subjugations makes for a good story with a lot of oh-so-true observations on British society too. I did feel that Corran was a bit heavy handed with her philosophical arguments at times, and Asher's initial refusal to learn from her mistakes was exasperating although very believable. What I did like though was the way we saw her grow into her potential as her quest progressed.
I'm not a big reader of fantasy stories - which is the main reason why it took me so long to get started on this one. I did feel that Fate's main narrative went pretty much where I expected to, albeit in an interesting way, and I didn't like the city names - Fate, Omen, Venture, and especially the misspelled Kepesake. What's with that?! I did like Corran's writing style and could empathise with her characters. Perhaps the physical settings and world-building could have done with a little more refinement because I felt some were overdescribed with others not benefiting from enough attention. This could be my lack of fantasy-reading experience showing though with me not picking up on genre standards or tropes. Overall though, Fate is a fun adventure novel and I have no regrets about spending time in Asher's world. I'm not sure that I would pick up another of Corran's fantasy stories, but I have added her mental health memoir to my TBR....more
If you read my Monster, She Wrote book review a few days ago you'll know that it inspired meSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
If you read my Monster, She Wrote book review a few days ago you'll know that it inspired me to get reading some of the women speculative fiction and horror authors Kroger and Anderson presented. Their hint that I could find possibly the earliest female-authored scifi story still in existence for free online got me searching and it didn't take long to stumble across a transcribed copy of The Blazing World. By coincidence, we watched the Simon Schama History Of Britain episode about the downfall of King Charles I while I was in the midst of reading The Blazing World. The book was written within a couple of decades of the tumultuous English Civil Wars, mentioned by Cavendish in the story, and this really brought home to me just how long ago 350 years really is! And how different Cavendish's England was to mine.
I've given The Blazing World a 3 star rating which is unfair on pretty much every level. Had I read this story as a modern-day effort it would undoubtedly have been a DNF 1 star! The plot is bonkers and I have several problems with its ideas surrounding colonialism and tolerance. Characterisation is practically non-existent, explanations of the hows and whys of the new world are sorely lacking, and the interminable philosophical and scientific question and answer session goes beyond tedious. That said though, I could see how Cavendish was using those scientific discussions to poke fun at the scholars of her time. In an era when most women were not even allowed to be literate, this woman is not only openly engaging in the debates, but doing so in a published story. I understand too that this scifi-fantasy tale was published alongside a serious philosophical work of hers. I'm not sure if that still exists?
I did love Cavendish's insertion of herself as a leading player in the story though. Also wonderfully appealing is the premise of every woman being an Empress in her own inner world - one just has to imagine its structures and governance to one's own satisfaction! I am aware that I would probably have got a lot more out of reading The Blazing World if I had a greater knowledge and understanding of named men such as Plato and Hobbs. Cavendish was obviously very familiar with their works and seemed to expect a similar educational level from her readers. Its lack is to my detriment (and that is probably not going to change any time soon), but I am still delighted to have had the opportunity to read this ground breaking story. I am also grateful that science fiction writing has progressed dramatically in the intervening centuries!...more
I mistakenly thought, at first, that The Women At Hitler's Table was a nonfiction work. In rSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I mistakenly thought, at first, that The Women At Hitler's Table was a nonfiction work. In reality it is well researched historical fiction based around the wartime experiences of Margot Wolk who was selected to be one of Hitler's food tasters for several years. The real life Margot kept this a secret for decades after the war had ended, only eventually breaking her silence at the age of ninety-six. Rosella Postorino has crafted this around Margot's story. I don't actually know how much of what I read was factual and how much imagined, but I appreciated that the story felt authentic throughout and I felt that Postorino had done a lot of research on life at Wolfsschanze. The Women At Hitler's Table allows us to learn about a formerly hidden aspect of World War Two. When recounting wartime history, women are often overlooked in favour of analysing battle strategies or telling soldiers' stories. Recently however novels such as How We Disappeared and histories such as Les Parisiennes have allowed me to view the war through a much wider lens.
I particularly liked how Postorino depicted the fraught relationships between Rosa and her husband's family, and between the ten women food tasters. Their views of the role are very different with some actively relishing the prospect of being so vital to Hitler's survival and others doing the work because their terror of the SS is greater than that of eating poisoned food. Another consideration was, of course, that by the time Hitler had moved to Wolfsschanze, many of the local villagers were practically starving. At least this job meant being fed so there would be one's rations could be shared amongst one's family.
I enjoyed reading this novel very much. In common with Good People, it poses questions to the reader about how we might act under similar circumstances so would make an interesting source for book club discussions. It is also a tense and exciting read with believable characters struggling to survive under increasingly dangerous circumstances. I would recommend The Women At Hitler's Table to readers of character-driven wartime fiction....more
Two Tides To Turn is an ingenious dual timeline novel where the narratives have a link, butSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Two Tides To Turn is an ingenious dual timeline novel where the narratives have a link, but do not end up resolving each other which I appreciated as that overly convenient device can often end up ruining a book for me! Instead, here, we have a present day story of Patrick who is trying to get his life back on track after having split up from his French wife, Maria. I couldn't in any way sympathise with the solution he chooses but, after I discovered just how unreliable a narrator Patrick is, this storyline really took off for me. It is wonderfully confusing!
Alternating chapters with Patrick's story is that of his grandfather, John, a young Scottish dairy farmer during the First World War. John's life is defined by a brief meeting with a girl riding a bicycle. She is Catherine and we are encouraged to believe that his determined pursuit of her and its aftermath will have serious repercussions on both his life and that of his descendants. On the face of it, this storyline is beautiful romantic historical fiction and I did very much enjoy Gall's portrayal of 1910s and 1920s Dumfries life, especially his inclusion of lots of authentic details of the farming lifestyle. Across both storylines, Gall's poetic prose is a real treat for the reader. My uncertainty came from the female characterisations though which did seem to fall mostly into the saintly virgin or evil witch trope. John himself is a complicated and nuanced creation so I was a little disappointed that the significant women in his life, Catherine and Renee, didn't feel to have been given the same depth.
That said though, Two Tides To Turn kept me absolutely engrossed from start to finish. It often takes unexpected turns, but always in a plausible manner and I liked the alternating chapter jumps most of the time. Only occasionally had I become so involved in one family that the appearance of the other took me by surprise! I would highly recommend this novel for readers interested in mysteries, twentieth century historical fiction, and stories which aren't exactly as they seem....more
There's nothing quite like reading an amazing poetry collection to help me really see and apSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
There's nothing quite like reading an amazing poetry collection to help me really see and appreciate the world around me. In Surrender To Night, Trakl's gorgeous observations of village life and the natural world did just that and I was blown away both that he was so young to have written such vivid poetry and that he isn't far more widely known. I don't think I had even seen his name prior to spotting this new Pushkin collection on NetGalley yet the poems themselves are over a century old! Despite their age, I found no problem in envisaging the imagery Trakl presents, yet I did experience a strange sense of not quite grasping his meaning. It's hard to describe - perhaps almost a magickal veil? I felt, as read many of these poems, that I was absolutely there in the moment yet as I finished each one and thought back over it, something of that clarity evaporated. Does that make sense?
I learned from the informative introductory essays that Trakl himself was a disturbed soul who struggled with mental illness for much of his short life. His translator for this book, Will Stone, has arranged most of the poems in a chronological order so I could appreciate the darkening of repeated themes over the years. Colour is important to Trakl and the blues and browns of his earlier works tends to be replaced by reds, blacks and bone whites later on. Deer and birds are common metaphors as are trees, both for their appearance and their sound, and the Föhn wind which I recognised from Where The Wild Winds Are and remembered it traditionally is said to affect mental stability. I noticed mentions of wine were usurped by the idea of being 'drunk on poppy' as Trakl's opium addiction took a stronger hold on him, and his uses of more Christian imagery including angels and ruined churches.
I cannot say with any confidence that I actually completely understood Trakl's poetry, especially not in the case of the darkest later works. However I could feel his sense of isolation and the idea of an outsider always looking in to a community of which he cannot be part. I am very grateful to Pushkin Press for having made this breathtakingly original collection available again to readers and to Will Stone for his sympathetic translations....more
I was intrigued by Nancy Jardine's Celtic Fervour series being set towards the beginning ofSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I was intrigued by Nancy Jardine's Celtic Fervour series being set towards the beginning of the Roman occupation of Britannia. I haven't read any novels set in this period since Skin by Ilka Tampke, set three decades earlier, and it is a time of great social change across what would become Britain so ripe, I think, for a stirring historical fiction series. Jardine has researched and envisaged various tribal communities across the country. They have been intermittently at war with each other for generations, but now the Roman threat from the south can only successfully be countered if all these enemies can work together. With a lot of testosterone pride at stake, it seems unlikely that any proposal along these lines will be accepted by enough tribes. Added to be mix is a Romeo and Juliet-style narrative of potential lovers, Lorcan and Nara, being thwarted by their families each being the leaders of different tribes.
I enjoyed Jardine's portrayal of late Iron Age life and the landscapes through which our travelling - and sparring - protagonists pass. As she says in an epilogue essay, archaeology is constantly changing our understanding of how these people lived, but I felt I got authentic and honest descriptions from The Beltane Choice. I admit I am not particularly a romance reader so the breathy bickering between our potential partners did start to grate on me after a while. I always believed in the progression of their relationship though and the political manoeuvres were certainly convincing. If anything, I felt that The Beltane Choice could have done with being a longer novel! At times I wanted to know more of the background and minutiae. I already have the next book in the series awaiting reading though so I may discover more there and I look forward to returning to Iron Age Britain soon....more
Henry VIII might well be the most written about of English kings so I was already well awareSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Henry VIII might well be the most written about of English kings so I was already well aware of Anne Boleyn's story once their lives became entwined, however I hardly knew anything about Anne's life prior to Henry. In La Petite Boulain, Lawrence has created a compelling tale of a young woman growing up in Tudor England and then coming of age in the courts of Queen Marguerite of Austria at Mechelen and Queen Claude of France. I loved Lawrence's detailed depictions of momentous events such as Henry and Katherine's procession through London which child Anne witnesses from a balcony. I could feel her childish excitement at the scenes and this is later contrasted with her awe at the Field Of Gold, no less spectacularly described, but obviously now seen through a woman's eyes rather than a child's.
Lawrence is clearly an expert on this era of European history and I was fascinated to learn about both Marguerite and Claude. Meeting them through fiction allows them to shine as women as well as historical figures. The intricate etiquette of court life sounds a nightmare to navigate successfully, especially for an unwary novice although, of course, Anne was already well schooled in her destiny before being sent forth into this rarefied world. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at how little choice women had over the major decisions in their lives, but La Petite Boulain did bring this home to me. Even a Princess did not have the freedom to choose her own husband, but once she was married and ruled her own household it seems her day-to-day life could be more independently decided upon and women such as Marguerite could wield true power themselves. I hadn't realised before how influential Anne's teenage years must have been in her later personal and religious life.
I am now inspired to learn more about these historical women both by reading the further four books in Lawrence's The Lady Anne series, and to read around the subject by searching out more well written and researched books on important historical women. I loved that here Anne's story is being told specifically as she experienced it, and I got a good sense of a women's world at the time. Art, poetry, clothing and food are detailed alongside religion and politics to give a wonderfully full picture of a fascinating time....more
C H Clepitt's LGBT retelling of one of Shakespeare's silliest plays (in my opinion anyway!)See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
C H Clepitt's LGBT retelling of one of Shakespeare's silliest plays (in my opinion anyway!) actually made a lot more sense to me than the Elizabethan original. At just 56 pages, it's a quick read and mostly told through dialogue which I liked as I felt this retained a lot of the idea of the story as a performance piece. Brought forward to the present day, we still have traditional elements such the isolated island, the cross dressing disguises and the yellow stockings, but in a corporate world of competing newspapers.Or What You Will is a fun read to brighten any dreary day, whether it be Christmas time or not....more
The first thing I want to say about More Than A Game is that it's not just a book about footSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
The first thing I want to say about More Than A Game is that it's not just a book about football! Yes the characters are linked by their connections to the same amateur football team, but Robb's novel encompasses far more than tackles and passes. Instead I was fascinated by this authentic portrayal of members of a West Indian-British community living in early 1980s Wolverhampton. I was only about six or seven years old at the time More Than A Game is set so I don't personally remember much about the problems of Tory Britain at that time, but as we seem to be returning to that kind of divided nation, I could easily imagine this story being as much of a preview as a warning from the past.
I loved the Jamaican patois which is liberally sprinkled across every page and, similarly to Sarong Paty Girls' Singlish, allowed me to imagine myself within the community through understanding their language. Horace was the character with whom I could most easily empathise. His hard work over decades has resulted in his reasonably successful barber shop business. He feels kindly towards Britain and tries his utmost to both impart positivity to his friends and to help in practical terms - Sabina Park Rangers being a part of this. However the limited opportunities available to black people in Wolverhampton and across Britain at that time resulted in the second generation seeing their hopes swiftly curtailed. Police brutality and racism were every day hazards and I can't help but be conscious that the proposed increases in Stop And Search powers proposed by today's out of touch politicians will result in similar powderkeg situations as those of almost forty years ago.
Despite the seriousness of my review so far though, I don't want potential readers to be discouraged. More Than A Game is an entertaining read! Robb has a great sense of pace and his characters are always very real. I fact I often felt as though I was reading an engaging history rather than a historical fiction novel. The nuanced relationships between neighbours, families and friends portray a tight community looking out for each other over many years. Many of them walk a line just on the illegal side of legal, but when the law is so stacked against you, that is easily understandable. More Than A Game is a good fusion of historical fiction, sport, crime caper and friendship. It's a strong portrayal of Thatcher's Britain and I think should appeal to a wide readership, whether they can remember the 1980s or not....more
Death On A Quiet Day was published in the mid-1950s, but has the sort of timeless setting coSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Death On A Quiet Day was published in the mid-1950s, but has the sort of timeless setting common to novels about upper class English men. Here the protagonists are a small group of male Oxbridge students who have gone on some sort of study retreat with their professor. Ensconced in a Dartmoor hotel, they plan to read worthy texts and debate philosophical issues. This gentility is thwarted however when one of the group stumbles over a corpse on the moor and is then forced into a Hannay-esque race for his life, attempting to escape from anonymous shady characters who keep trying to shoot him. The hunt, for all its implausible moments, does make for exciting reading. I did struggle to take seriously the idea of an assassin wearing knickerbockers though!
Our hero, Inspector Appleby, doesn't actually even put in an appearance until a good third of the way through the novel. I'm not really sure how I felt about him because Innes didn't give him much of a character. In fact the characterisation for every man is pretty weak and the few women might as well be cardboard cutouts. Perhaps, as this is the sixteenth book of the Appleby series, readers are already supposed to be independently imagining whatever foibles and mannerisms had been described in previous stories? For me this lack of personality was a shame though. The mystery itself is well plotted and satisfying, and I liked the Dartmoor setting which gives a good atmosphere to Innes' tale. Overall I thought Death On A Quiet Day was pretty good for its time, but I wonder if the earlier Appleby novels would be stronger?...more
One Summer In France is a wonderfully joyous beach read, or a book to remind you of sand, suSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
One Summer In France is a wonderfully joyous beach read, or a book to remind you of sand, sunshine and maybe one too many vinos! A fictional tale of two best friends spending three months in the south of France, the story is loosely based around Bev Spicer's own experiences over one French camping summer so I felt the book had a good ring of authenticity as well as being fun to read. I could easily empathise with Bev and her straight-talking friend, Carol, although I remember not being anywhere near as daring when I was their age. In a way, One Summer In France is a coming of age story. There is a certain naivete both from the women themselves and because of the 1979 setting. Life and expectations seem so much simpler then - that might have something to do with tent living though.
Bev and Carol, unsurprisingly perhaps for university students, spend a lot of their time drinking which sometimes leads to unfortunate adventures! They also do a fair bit of exploration too and I loved recognising towns such as Carcassonne, Argeles-sur-Mer and Figueres, all of which I have also visited - albeit over thirty years later. I was impressed by Bev's reading so many French language novels during the months, especially as my own progress is so much slower. She has an engaging, chatty style to her writing style so I soon felt like one the girls. If you're looking for an uplifting holiday read, I'd happily recommend One Summer In France....more
I didn't know anything about Now Let's Dance prior to winning a copy in a Weidenfeld and NicSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I didn't know anything about Now Let's Dance prior to winning a copy in a Weidenfeld and Nicolson book bundle giveaway last year. Romance isn't one of my favourite genres so I wasn't sure how I would get on with the novel, but as it turned out, I was utterly charmed! This is just as much a story about aging as about finding love, and I appreciated how Lambert's understanding of her elderly characters affected their sense of priorities throughout the story. Marguerite reminded me a little of Fru Bagge in A Change Of Heart by Ida Jessen. Both are women who spent their lives overshadowed by their husbands and who, when they finally find themselves independent in old age, might just as easily fade as blossom.
Now Let's Dance is set in France, mostly in a town near Paris, and this novel has a lovely French vibe to it. We also see glimpses of mid-century Algeria as Marcel immigrated from there as a child. There's a sense of nostalgia and yearning from Marguerite and Marcel - for what they have lost, for what never was and, now, for what might be. I loved Marcel's enthusiasm for life and his determination not to give in to other people's opinions of what he should do or feel. Alongside the wistful moments, this story has laughs and plenty of joyful moments. It's a tender romance and ultimately I felt this was a beautiful life affirming read....more
Magical realism is one of my favourite genres and I have read great novels in this vein fromSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Magical realism is one of my favourite genres and I have read great novels in this vein from South America, Africa and Asia, but don't remember having the opportunity to read a British example before so I was delighted when Clare Stevens offered me a review copy of Blue Tide Rising. The story begins with Amy Blue in a grotty Manchester bedsit apartment, barely keeping a grip on her distorted reality through a diazepam haze. I loved Stevens' portrayal of the Balmoral Street community and the way these people interact, looking out for each other to the best of their abilities. Stevens has a great eye for authentic detail allowing me to clearly envisage all the characters and locations. When Amy first encounters a gorgeous blond man standing at the end of her bed, she feels drawn to trust him, but his uncanny knowledge of her innermost thoughts cannot easily be explained.
Amy is a memorable creation with whom I found I could strongly empathise. Her chequered past has left her vulnerable and isolated, and in desperate need of a safe haven. The Welsh farm, Mor Tawel, is just such a place for her and is somewhere I would love to discover myself if it really exists! A place of darkness as well as potential recuperation for Amy, I was intrigued by its contrasts. Amy is often not sure where the reality line is drawn and Stevens frequently had me wondering too. I did think that perhaps poor Rita had too many burdens thrust upon her, but the development of relationships at Mor Tawel is sensitively done and always felt genuine to me.
Blue Tide Rising is a timely novel of mental health issues, of understanding when to cease blaming ourselves for other people's actions, and of finding a safe home - however out of the ordinary that place may seem. While I loved the otherworldly narrative thread, this novel is strongly rooted in a recognizably British reality so I think even readers who aren't magical realism fan would enjoy this accomplished debut....more
The Yankee Comandante is a well-researched story which attempts to present the events of theSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
The Yankee Comandante is a well-researched story which attempts to present the events of the Cuban revolution from an unusual perspective. I had never heard of William Morgan before and the idea of an American fighting in Fidel Castro's revolutionary army is certainly intriguing, especially considering the future American attitude towards Cuba. In this graphic novel, Jakupi condenses a convoluted historical narrative with many participants so I did find it tricky to keep track of everyone's role within the drama. There isn't much opportunity for the men, other than Che Guevara, to establish themselves as individual personalities. Even William didn't come across to me as real hero material. What I did love in The Yankee Comandante though were the atmospheric illustrations and particularly the use of different colour palettes to establish each environment. There is a great vintage feel to the work which reflects the period in which it is set. I think readers interested in the military and political history would appreciate this graphic novel, however I approached it more from a historical fiction perspective so was a little disappointed....more
I listened to the audiobook autobiography of Slave by Mende Nazer several years ago now, butSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I listened to the audiobook autobiography of Slave by Mende Nazer several years ago now, but the horror of her existence as a modern-day slave has remained strongly in my memory. In Razia Abda Khan managed to evoke the same emotions from me. This novel is a compelling thriller with a conscience and I was impressed that both aspects of the story complement each other, adding to its strengths overall. I never felt as though I was being lectured about slavery or that the thrilling narrative detracted from the seriousness of its subject. Yet, when I finished reading Razia, I had been educationed and entertained, and inspired to find out more about this issue on the real world. It's a cleverly balanced novel with powerful sense of authenticity.
Razia explores not only the immediate consequences of one young woman's enslavement, but also the social and patriarchal systems which allow the practice to be depressingly common. I liked how Khan contrasts London with Lahore and Islamabad and it was interesting to see how London lawyer Farah found herself so disoriented by the realities of such a different culture. I loved Farah! She always felt genuine as a character and I understood the motivation of even her most impetuous actions. Her back story of the pressures of being thirty and Not Yet Married was a great lighter foil to the main storyline and also provided a good focus onto the differences between Farah and Razia, their expectations and opportunities.
I was suprised by just how much I enjoyed and appreciated this novel and would happily recommend it to a wide readership across fans of literary fiction, Asian fiction and thrillers....more
Reading The Girl Who Wasn't There felt like being in the audience for one of David P Abbott'See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Reading The Girl Who Wasn't There felt like being in the audience for one of David P Abbott's medium unveilings! The novel is written in spare, almost stark, prose and my paperback edition is printed in a larger than normal font with blank pages left between chapters. Together these elements kept me reading at a pretty fast pace so I was aware of hints, clues and moments that just didn't seem quite 'right', but with the skill of a conjuror, von Schirach kept allowing glimpses then diverting my attention away. It's very cleverly done and makes the story both compelling and disconcerting.
This novel explores truth and reality, but shows that the two concepts don't have to be the same to everybody. The narrative is in two halves, each half with its own protagonist whose ideas and experiences seem to oppose each other. Sebastian has synaesthesia so sees the world through an extensive range of colours, many of which aren't visible to other people around him. His wildly successful artistic career has been based on the concept of showing the public alternative views of what they believe to be truth and I would love to see some of the artworks described in the story. I don't know if they actually do exist outside of von Schirach's imagination though!
The Girl Who Wasn't There would benefit, I think, from a different and more enigmatic English title. The original German title translates as 'Taboo' and I'm not sure why it had to be changed. Certainly the Stieg Larssen 'The Girl Who ...' allusion doesn't do this work any favours as its style is far from that kind of thriller. I'd recommend this instead to fans of mid-European fiction and thoughtful crime mysteries. It's an unusual, but a rewarding read. ...more
I first read Hester Velmans' work when she translated Renate Dorrestein's novel The DarknessSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I first read Hester Velmans' work when she translated Renate Dorrestein's novel The Darkness That Divides Us. Slipper is her own original novel and I love the concept of imagining Cinderella as a 'real' historical woman, Lucinda, whose turns of fortune could have inspired the Charles Perrault fairytale. This story is far removed from the later Disney incarnation, thank goodness! Instead we are returned to a period in Western European history when France and England are (again) at war with each other, people are regularly tortured and killed as a result of witchcraft accusations, and ethics are judged by their profitability. Velmans' dark portrayal evokes the attitudes and beliefs of the time in an shocking and authentic way. I understood I was reading a historical novel, yet delighted in spotting not only elements of Cinderella, but also nods to lots of other famous fairytales along the way.
Lucinda is a brilliantly imagined character who we follow from neglected child to world-weary woman. I appreciated seeing how she changes in response to events in her life. Slipper focuses on womens lives and cleverly manages to believably show a wide range of roles and social classes without any of the story's twists and turns feeling forced. I was impressed that Velmans got me caring deeply about Lucinda's life story even though I didn't particularly like her to begin with. I could certainly sympathise by the end. To my mind, Slipper is a memorably unusual retelling of the Cinderella fairytale and a satisfying historical fiction novel too....more
Ismail spends his days walking across a stiflingly hot Italian beach wearing a stack of sunhSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Ismail spends his days walking across a stiflingly hot Italian beach wearing a stack of sunhats, carrying a heavy bag of sarongs and a board displaying sunglasses and jewellery - some of which he hopes to sell to holidaymakers. An illegal immigrant from Morocco, this is his second summer working ridiculously long hours for a pittance, despised by the locals, but all in the hope of sending back enough money to keep his mother and sisters and to earn enough to pay for his Italian residency permit. His dream is to become legal so he can get a job as a waiter - working ridiculously long hours for a pittance, but at least he might be out of the sun.
I felt as though Mara Mer completely understood Ismail and the catch-22 predicament in which he finds himself. In many other novels, handsome and hardworking Ismail would be the romantic lead, but because of his status here he is practically invisible until a knockoff pair of sunglasses or a scapegoat is required. Mer beautifully evokes the Italian summer environment and its styles of seaside living. Super-rich holidaymakers laze by infinity pools while grumpy bar staff protect their territory and pour beers. I loved Mer's portrayal of the beginnings of Ismail's relationship with wealthy Matteo. This plotline didn't go anywhere near where I had expected from the synopsis, and it felt nicely realistic throughout. Both men believe the other could be their salvation and I liked that Mer doesn't get bogged down in explaining unnecessary detail. My only negative is that I didn't like the Rosa ending which I didn't think fitted with what had come before. However, overall, I very much enjoyed this slice of life novella which gives readers an insightful glimpse into lives which are all too often ignored...more
I loved Iceland when I visited briefly a few years ago although we didn't get to see the NorSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I loved Iceland when I visited briefly a few years ago although we didn't get to see the Northern Lights. The stunning display pictured on the Storytellers cover caught my eye and I'm glad to say that the story inside is just as powerful. Storytellers is set in the 1920s, with characters also remembering events from several decades before, and I was impressed with Larssen's historical portrayals. Rural Iceland wasn't at the cutting edge of the Jazz Age(!) and I got a good sense of the timelessness of life in this small community. The new doctor might have his new-fangled car and telephone, but no one else can ring him up and a good horse will amble faster on what passes for roads.
Misanthropic Gunnar is a great character! I could empathise with a lot of his emotions and actions - although I've never chatted with an elf. Initially I wasn't sure whether I would enjoy the story-within-a-story device, but once Sigurd's narrative caught my attention I was completely hooked. Everyone felt very real and believable especially determined Brynhildur and I loved the almost-Dickensian exaggeration of the Constipated Hags. It was difficult to believe that Storytellers is actually a debut novel. Larssen's assured prose and intricately woven plot lines made for an interesting and entertaining novel which I thoroughly enjoyed reading....more
The Gingerbread Houses is the third book in Ben Jones' Charlie Bars thriller series. I lovedSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
The Gingerbread Houses is the third book in Ben Jones' Charlie Bars thriller series. I loved the second book, The Devil's Brew (having, of course, still not read the first!), so I was very happy to be given the opportunity to read and review this new installment of Charlie's adventures. This novel is set in the seedier parts of London and introduces a number of characters who are generally thugs, gangsters and drunks. I wasn't so keen on this London setting as I was on the previous Northumbrian location because it didn't feel as unique. Jones understands well how this world works though and we are taken on a thrilling journey with lots of blokey posturing and serious violence. There are some pretty gruesome scenes to stomach, alternating with a lot of visits to pubs and bars. In fact, I did get fed up with someone 'taking a deep bite' of their drink, seemingly on every second page. Jones' use of colloquialisms does add to the authenticity of the characters, but this one was so overused that I felt it became caricature instead. I wasn't always convinced by the characters' actions either. Charlie and Mario are great and I was intrigued by Hilda's role, but Ellie was more plot device than realistic woman. That said, The Gingerbread Houses is a fun escapist thriller which makes for a satisfyingly entertaining read....more
I've loved previous Epoque Press publications including the incredible El Hacho by Luis CarrSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I've loved previous Epoque Press publications including the incredible El Hacho by Luis Carrasco so I was keen to read their newest offering, Upperdown by David Brennan, a retelling of the Pied Piper fairytale. Retellings can be a bit hit and miss for me. However I didn't remember seeing a Pied Piper one before so was happy to try Upperdown.
The story is narrated in the first person by a maths professor. He speaks in a stylised 'olde worlde' way which took some getting used to but, once I did, I liked the effect especially in its contrast with the otherwise modern day setting. Upperdown itself is a large town beset with a terrible rat problem. The professor doesn't seem to mind the rats and, at times, almost seems to identify with them. He is a loner who spends much of his day simply walking around town observing its people or yearning for the attention of Beatrice Nolan, a younger woman with whom he is obsessed. I could have done with less of his agonising over this unrequited love! I did like the frequent inclusion of numbers in the narration. I didn't feel Brennan always gave enough focus to character development so this way a way to understand how the professor saw the world around him.
Upperdown diverges from the traditional fairytale into a delta of storylines which I felt had a good sense of atmosphere but, unfortunately, I didn't always understand what was going on. The professor's determination to crack the 'Riemann Hypothesis' (which is a real mathematical conundrum) was probably relevant but it makes no sense to me so I probably didn't pick up correctly on the frequent prime number references either. Having taken few dozen pages at the beginning to get into the style of the story, it was disappointing for me to then be bewildered by much of the ending. I'll be interested to read other reviews of Upperdown because the novel does have its good points, but maybe I just wasn't in the right place to fully engage with the story....more
I loved Charlie Laidlaw's previous novel, The Things We Learn When We're Dead, so was delighSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I loved Charlie Laidlaw's previous novel, The Things We Learn When We're Dead, so was delighted to be offered a review copy of his newest offering, The Space Between Time. This story follows the apparently charmed life of Emma Rossini as she grows up in a seemingly picture perfect family which is soon revealed to us readers to be anything but perfect. I admit to being frequently baffled by the astrophysical diversions although I think I understood enough to appreciate how the scientific theories reflected aspects of Emma's life - or vice versa, perhaps! Overall though, I was happy that I didn't need a physics degree here, and soon found myself completely swept up into the story.
Laidlaw's humour is, again, pitched just at the right level to keep The Space Between Time from becoming a depressing drama. The novel does explore heavy themes of mental illness and family relationships, and ideas of personal responsibility, but Laidlaw's eye for the absurd and his dry turn of phrase really appealed to me. Each of the characters are fully-rounded nuanced people and Laidlaw is just as accomplished with his portrayals of female characters as with males. We see everyone slightly differently as Emma grows from child to teenager to adult and her perceptions change with her increased understanding of what had passed. This is cleverly done and felt very real throughout the novel. I now want to visit several of the stunning locations too, especially that North Berwick coastline which sounds bleakly wonderful.
I think The Space Between Time would be a great book club choice inspiring lots of animated discussions of the ideas it raises! I felt that it has important things to say about the way we see ourselves and the assumptions we often make about other people without any sense of their internal lives. It is also simply a great story and an engrossing read which I hope will have a wide appeal....more