Category Archives: Reviews

Books I love

Yeah, I know, sorry, it’s been a while since I posted. Been busy writing. Got to get Episode finished! But I have a bit of time to tell you about a recent challenge I was given on Facebook to post the cover of a book I love for seven days with no review or explanation. These were the books I chose, but this time I want to explain why I chose them:

 

Day 1

This is a book you can’t put down and I think I’ve read it over twenty times. A traumatic tale told through the eyes of an innocent 10-year-old girl in America’s south, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic simply and beautifully written, exposing bigotry and racism in a time when such things were unfortunately acceptable. It keeps you riveted from the first page to the last.

Day 2

The first full-length book I ever read age 10 which inspired me to write for children. Not a literary masterpiece, old-fashioned, a world apart from my own, but as enduring and as popular  today as it was back in the 1940s when it was first published. Say what you like about Enid Blyton, but she still sells.

Day 3

This is the official programme of the Champions League Final held in Kiev on 26 May 2018. I don’t own a copy and I wasn’t at the Final, but I was watching on telly and on that day it was my favourite book. Oh, I had such hopes for Liverpool’s first Champions League trophy since 2005, only for them to be dashed by the cheating, diving, fouling Real Madrid, one fluke goal and two terrible gaffes by our goalkeeper!  I’m not bitter, though. (Yes, I am!)  I’ll never get over it! 😦

Day 4

I studied A-level Ancient History and Literature at further education college and The Iliad was our set text. I knew little about the story before I started reading and I loved it: Helen of Sparta running off with Paris of Troy, the Greeks declaring war on Troy in an attempt to get her back, the bickering and in-fighting amongst the Greeks, the gods sticking their oar in…it’s full of great drama, blood, guts and glory. The poem starts in the tenth year of the war and I often wondered why this was, until recently I discovered The Iliad is part of what is known as the Epic Cycle and there were other poems before this, outlining how the war started, now long since lost. It was this that inspired me to write Episode and to read other epic poems such as The Odyssey and The Aeneid.

Day 5

So the Trojan War is over and famed Greek warrior and king Odysseus is on his way home back home to Ithaca, to his wife Penelope and son Telemachus, who was a baby when Odysseus left to fight in the war. On the way he encounters many adventures and challenges and Penelope is having to fend off a queue of blokes, convinced Odysseus is dead, who want to marry her. The Odyssey is an enjoyable tale focusing on Penelope’s anguish, Telemachus’s quest to search for his father and the conflicts Odysseus has to face on his journey home. You can feel and sympathise with the characters in this sequel to The Iliad.

Day 6

This is a book I have always wanted to read. It is an open, honest account of Anne Frank’s young life growing up while hiding from the Nazis in the small flat in Amsterdam and her relationship with her family and the other families hiding with her. She doesn’t come across as a saint: in fact, I was often left thinking, ‘What a little madam!’ She appears selfish in some ways and is quite scathing in her opinion of her mother. The abrupt ending of the diary is explained at the end and because her story is so well-known there is a feeling of poignancy in this.

Day 7

As a comedy of manners, Pride and Prejudice never fails to impress: the comical Mrs Bennet, the downtrodden Mr Bennet and his life full of women, the awful cousin Mr Collins and the snooty Lady Catherine de Burgh. The Bennet daughters are a collection of different characteristics: the beautiful, self-composed Jane, the not-quite-as-beautiful-but-nevertheless-down-to-earth-and-critical Lizzie; the over-studious and plain Mary; the silly, sawdust-between-her-ears and easily-led Kitty; and finally the pretty but selfish Lydia. As a love story, it’s a bit of a mind field! And it never fails to amaze me what a small world Jane Austen’s characters live in: Mr Collins, the Bennet cousin, happens to be curate in Lady Catherine’s parish and Mr Wickham happens to be a childhood friend of Mr Darcy before they fell out. A terrific book.

 

I could have listed so many more such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was clever and comical; the Red Dwarf books, the first of which made me laugh out loud so much once on a train I had to stop reading it! Books will never stop giving me pleasure.

 

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A new review for Big Brother: 4/5 stars!

 

Was I chuffed to find a new review for Big Brother on Amazon.co.uk! My thanks to the reviewer; glad they enjoyed it! 👍

Not Perfect, but a Highly Imaginative Offering Nonetheless
Sci-fi with a dash of horror; street level style. Ash is a young boy from a broken home; while his dad lives and works in the US, Ash is going to school and once home tries to keep things together in his Liverpool home for both himself and his badly screwed up mother, although he is really from Bristol and only came back to his mother’s home town after his mum and dad broke up. I can’t say or explain too much of the plot as it would be a class one spoiler, but Ash, after getting another pasting from a school bully, realises that what he wishes for can actually come true.

Now, some things to point out. This is YA but at the back end of the age-group / target audience, verging on grown-up reading. The central character, although perhaps he has reasons to be the way he is,is not the nicest lad on the planet. He seems to resent authority (his drunken drugged-up mother, teachers, social workers, the usual suspects as it were), just as much as he resents those who use him as a punchbag and as the butt of their jokes. He gets angry, swears and rejects whenever he’s threatened, and is rather amoral in some serious issues, although always with pangs of guilt lurking in the background before occasionally coming to the fore. Contradicting this is his sense of duty which sees him reject the chance of a better life, either in the US with his father, or back in Bristol, where he could stay with his Gran, who he likes and respects, and which would also allow him to return to his old school in Bristol, and be with his old friends in his old haunts where he was happiest. Instead, realising he is all his messed up mother has got, stays in Liverpool.

There are also a few references to sex and sexuality, but in a very general sense, not in the least graphic; for any concerned parents looking for a good book for their kids, yes, this is at times realistic and even raw, but it’s nothing that isn’t readily available on all YA bookshelves and on the TV and cinema.

So, we have an anti-hero as the central character, some rather odd, spooky stuff going on (science or magic? That would be telling.) And an ending which may not appeal to all, but is highly effective.

All in all, a book flawed in some ways at some points, but nonetheless a good, solid read, weighing in somewhere between a novelette and a full length novel.

My review of White Nights by Ann Cleeves

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After the impressive first book, Raven Black, I’m afraid I found White Nights too much of a slow burner. A visitor to an art exhibition is found murdered. Detective Jimmy Perez has very little to work on other than to find out if anyone in the small community knows who the man is and the history of personal relationships form the basis of his investigation. To his frustration he can’t head up the case himself; that’s down to Taylor, sent in from Inverness. Taylor is actually from the big city of Liverpool and he finds Shetland too insular for his taste. He also likes to show Perez who’s boss. When another murder is committed, and bones are found on a cliff edge by climbers, it is Perez who manages to solve the case first.

I was kept guessing right up until the end whodunnit, which is a plus, but then I was left feeling dissatisfied and cheated when the perpetrator got away with it by dying! I hate it when that happens!

While the case is going on there is an insight into Perez’s private life, but he really does come across as a colourless character without much personality and it’s difficult to find sympathy with him or any of the other characters in the story.

My review of Mary Barton: a Tale of Manchester Life

Mary Barton

‘Mary Barton’ is reminiscent of Gaskell’s novel ‘North and South’, following the theme of the lives and loves of the characters who lived during the industrial revolution in the North West of England, but whereas ‘North and South’ was set in the fictional town of Milton, based on Manchester, ‘Mary Barton’ is actually set in Manchester itself, where Gaskell lived for a time. Like ‘North and South’, it is a difficult, slow read, with a lot of characters it is difficult to keep track of and some you find it hard to sympathise with; like ‘North and South’, the author keeps faith with working-class local dialects and colloquialisms of the time, and these are also difficult to read.

The main protagonist of the book title, Mary Barton herself, comes across as a colourless character, shunning the attentions of a young man of her own class because she believes herself to be in love with the rich son of her father’s mill boss, until something happens which makes her suddenly – and I found this a bit startling – realise she loves the former after all.

Not her best work by any means.

This review is available on Goodreads and Amazon.co.uk.

My Review of Little Town on the Prairie

 

Laura is fast approaching womanhood and her family is settled in the town of De Smet in South Dakota. She’s back at school with her friends, but her sister Mary has gone to college to learn to cope with her blindness and Laura is lonely without her. Although she’s not keen on becoming a teacher, her goal is to get her teaching certificate so she can earn enough to help keep Mary at college. She is studying hard, but there are distractions: as well as socialising, there’s the reappearance of an old adversary, Nellie Oleson, and the new teacher has taken a dislike to her. Also, she’s attracted the attention of Almanzo Wilder, even though she’s only 15.

Overall I enjoyed this book. The reappearance of the repellent Nellie Oleson is reminiscent of Laura’s encounters with her in the TV series Little House on the Prairie, but I would have liked a bit more nastiness from Nellie! There are major flaws, however, not least the minstrel show performed at one of the ‘Literaries’ and the racist language around that, and Almanzo Wilder’s sister is the new teacher who dislikes Laura, but it doesn’t come up as a topic of conversation between her and Almanzo and Laura seemingly forgets the connection. Finally, the way in which Laura gains her teaching certificate comes across as unrealistic.

Review available on Amazon.co.uk and Goodreads.

 

My Review of The Marlows and The Traitor

The Marlows and the Traitor is the second in the series of Marlow books and the first I’ve read about twins Nicola and Lawrie away from their boarding school. It’s the Easter holidays and the twins are staying in St-Anne’s-Byfleet with their mother, sister Ginty and brother Peter. The traitor in question is one of Peter’s teachers at Dartmouth Naval College, Lewis Foley. Foley snubs Peter when they unexpectedly meet. When the children come across a deserted house called Mariners (which turns out to belong to Foley’s family), this sets off a frightening chain of events involving a lighthouse, secret papers, spies and a German U-boat. Set following World War II, the U-boat is a bit of a surprise, but perhaps indicates that for the Germans at least the war isn’t over.

Overall it is an enjoyable read, although I found some of the scenes with the character Robert Anquetil somewhat confusing. He and Nicola appear to be friends, but the author doesn’t say how this has come about, and the fact that Mrs Marlow decides to go and see her husband, leaving the children to their own devices, is also a bit weird.

I read the Girls Gone By edition, beautifully produced, although quite pricey at around £12.00.

 

Read my review on Amazon.co.uk and Goodreads

My review of The School at the Chalet

The School at the Chalet by Elinor M. Brent-Dyer

Years ago (I won’t say how many!) I went on holiday to the Austrian Tirol with my parents and stayed in a resort called Pertisau situated by the largest lake in the region, Achensee. At that time, I was still reading the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer and I loved them. I guessed that her fictional location of Tiern See was based on Achensee, but wasn’t sure; fast-forward to the easy-research-at- your-fingertips world of the internet and I found I’d guessed correctly. In August this year, I went with my husband to the Tirol and we went to Achensee for a day trip. That prompted me to want to revisit the Chalet School because I came over all nostalgic and because I never got to read the entire series.

I managed to find a pdf version of the first of the series, The School at the Chalet, on Scribd, and unfortunately it didn’t hold the same magic for me as an adult as it did as a teen. My adult eyes could see the dated language, the glaring class distinctions, the prejudice against certain diverse groups, the fact that Jo Bettany’s ‘delicate’ health wasn’t much referred to beyond the first chapter and the far-fetched story surrounding Juliet’s predicament. It’s all that which prevents me from giving it the five stars I would have given it when I was 13.

That said, I’m on the lookout for the second book in the series, Jo of the Chalet School, because I want to see improvements. I know Girls Gone By publishers have reprised the series on ebook, but not this title. It is available on paperback, but I understand that the later editions published in my decade (by Armada) were abridged and I would like an unabridged version.

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