Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Love of My Life by Louise Douglas

This is definitely one of the books I just did not want to put down. I started reading it as we waited to board a high-speed ferry from Dublin to Holyhead.  I carried on reading it during the crossing and finished it just a couple of days later. It’s the type of book that stays with you until you’ve finished it.
I’d bought it as a young adult book and many of the scenes do depict protagonist Olivia – Liv – as a young adult. However, it’s arguably more “new adult”.
The story starts at the funeral of her husband Luca. He has been tragically killed in a nasty car accident.  She has been widowed at a very young age. The framework for the story is that the hurt has become very bad and she is now staying with her sister who, now that the time is right, has given her a laptop on which to write her story.     
The story soon settles into a rhythm of a scene from the past, taking us to the time of the accident and a scene after the funeral, bringing us forward to the present crisis.
I admire this book for its richly drawn characters and though Liv is no angel and her in-laws do some despicable things it isn’t hard to feel empathy for all of them.
Louise Douglas has also created an effective plot. It is all very believable but totally unpredictable. This, and the conveniently short chapters, make you keep on reading.   
Go, on treat yourself. It’s that time of the year when we need a lot of stories.   

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Haunting of Highdown Hall by Shani Struthers

This is one of those books that I like to read on holiday. In fact, earlier in the week I said I wished I was on holiday so that I would have more time to read it. It’s an easy read and it’s a page-turner.
Psychic Surveys is a company of psychics and sensitives who cleanse places of spirits that have got stuck and not yet passed on to the next world. Ridding Highdown Hall of a troubled spirit proves to be particularly difficult. In this particular story, yes, we have paranormal activity and that may not be what every reader likes. But we also have romance, pace and the type of questions that keep readers engaged in a crime story. Just why won’t Cynthia, a glamorous starlet who died young, make her way into the light? 
Twists and turns in the plot keep us on our toes. At the same time the characters are convincing and we’re engaged with them throughout. Shani Struthers’ writing gives us a filmic picture of the settings.
This is another success for Crooked Cat, a publisher that takes risks, works hard, and quite sensibly uses print-on-demand. Well done everyone!

Friday, 8 August 2014

A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo writes a lot of books about war. Several of them also include animals. A fair number, too, include those unbelievable coincidences in which our friend Charles Dickens also indulged. War Horse, for example, irritates me as a book, a film and a show, because it ends with a deus ex machina - Joey and Albert ending up in the same place? Come on, now.
We forgive Dickens and Morpurgo. After all, we crave happy endings. The horse delights, anyway, in whichever form we consume the story, and we love the other characters as well.   
A Medal for Leroy also includes war, an animal (several actually – various generations of a Jack Russell called Jasper), a happy ending and characters we grow to love. Yet it does not rely on any strange coincidences. This could have happened to anyone. Leroy, Michael, the two aunties and mum Christine are people to whom the reader can relate. The ending is satisfying and brings closure but is not a rip-roaring “happily ever after” affair. It is all the more believable and satisfying for being thus.  
There are some parallels between Leroy’s life and that of Walter Tull, the first black player at Tottenham Hotspur and the third professional black player in the UK. Normally soldiers had to be “of pure European blood” so both Tull and Leroy were unusual in being allowed to fight in the Great War. Leroy is not Tull, however: he was more for The Arsenal.
This is an ideal crossover book. It is very accessible to fluent, junior school children, may appeal to teens as it has young people in it and will certainly not be too simplistic in content for adults.
Morpurgo is after all a master story-teller.  

Friday, 2 May 2014

Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis

I read this book in less than a day whilst on holiday staying in Aviemore in the north of Scotland. Part of its appeal, of course, was that it is set reasonably locally and because we too became fascinated by the breeding pair of ospreys at the nearby RSPB centre.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Room by Emma Donoghue

It’s easy to see why this book was shortlisted for both the 2011 Orange Prize and the 2010 and Man Booker prize. It is very well written and keeps the reader guessing until the end.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Girl with a White Dog

I bought this book because tomorrow I am delivering a lecture on fiction written for children about the Holocaust. Its author, AnneBooth, and I have corresponded quite a bit about this theme on Twitter and via email as we have both been writing about that era. I was fortunate enough to enjoy a sabbatical awarded by the University of Salford three years ago and spent quite some time researching the background to my own novel, The House on Schellberg Street that also comes out shortly. Last week I spoke about that and the novel I’m working on now, Clara’s Story, a sort of prequel-sequel.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson

We all love Dickens and ought to remember that before his works became literary masterpieces they were very much pieces of popular fiction and possibly a little frowned upon by the serious reader: all those unbelievable coincidences, those slightly larger than life background characters, and all those impossible twists and turns. But that is what we love about his novels and for that matter the Christmas pantomime and Shakespeare’s comedies. Of course, Shakespeare also wrote tragedies and some of Dickens’ novels end on a sad note. Nevertheless, they both tell a great story.
Should Iva Ibbotson join those two great writers? Possibly she should. I’ve not been as delighted by a tale for some time as I have by that of The Star of Kazan.
We have the twists and turns, but they are all logical. We don’t have the unlikely coincidences though there is some high drama. The background characters are a little larger than life but still believable and completely likeable – even the more wicked ones. We even have a boarding-school with a harsh regime. Well, there are two, in fact. Does this mean that Ibbotson is possibly even better than the two masters?
We really can’t help gunning for the mild-natured Annika, and her adoptive family that includes the two warm-hearted servants and the three slightly eccentric but talented professors. We even forgive the money-grabbing Edeltrauts and the stuck-up Eggharts – for after all Herr Egghart leads the car-chase – with just a pinch of self-interest.
With plenty of colour and a beautifully crafted setting in old Vienna and a spa town in Germany, this book offers a thoroughly good read. It’s one that you are at once sad to finish and immensely satisfied about because of the upbeat ending, where in true Dickens and Shakespeare tradition, all loose ends are tied up. 

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Angel, Angel Fire and Angel Fever by Lee Weatherly

Angels have been the new vampires for some time now and Lee Weatherly’s stories do not disappoint. We’ve probably all been waiting for some time for the novels that would give us the same mix of high romance and paranormal adventure that we enjoyed in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. Here we have them. Except that the Angel series is much better.
We no longer have the worry that the female lead is being pursued by a man who is actually over a hundred years old. True, there is some time slippage in the Angel series but it just leaves the two main characters a little nearer in age.
Angels are not benign creatures in these novels. They are a sinister form of parasite though not every human realises this. Alex and Willow and the team they build have to fight the hold they have over mankind. The adventure is full of pace and tension and alongside this their romance goes through some tricky moments.
The three novels are well written and the story-telling is such that it is difficult to put the books down. There are three hefty volumes yet I read them very quickly. This was not because of any over simplicity in the language but rather because we get to know Alex and Willow so well and we must find out what happens.
I believe these characters have lived with Lee for a while. I’m so glad she has brought them out into the open.