Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Review:- Kate PENNINGTON – “Tread Softly”

Year Published: - 2003
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 9780340873434
Pages: - 247pp
Genre: - Historical
Location:- Plymouth and London; 1585
How I came across it: - Pensby Library booksale
Rating: - *****
One sentence summary:- An average historical novel about the a girl who makes the cloak with which Walter Raleigh saves his Queen’s shoes from the mud.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
The one sentence summary has done so though there are conspiracy and murder thrown in for good measure!

General comments:-
Not my scene – a bit shallow and lacking in historical detail though it makes plenty of use of the characters of the time.

AUTHOR Notes:-
Kate Pennington is a pseudonym for Jenny Oldfield. She was born and brought up in Harrogate, Yorkshire, and even as a child she wrote stories and made tiny books, complete with illustrations. At school her favourite subjects were English, although she preferred creative writing to comprehension, and Art. Jenny went on to study English at Birmingham University, where she did research on the Bronte novels and on children's literature. Jenny still lives in Yorkshire and says that she loves the countryside and enjoys walking, gardening, playing tennis, riding and travelling with her two daughters, Kate and Eve.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Review:- David GUTERSON – “Our lady of the Forest”

Year Published: - 2003
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 0 7475 6045 5
Pages: - 325pp
Genre: - General fiction
Location:- North Fork, Washington
How I came across it: - Pensby Library booksale
Rating: - ***** ****
One sentence summary:- The story of a young girl’s visions (or delusions?) and the impact it has on a number of the residents of the area where it takes place.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
The story of a teenage girl who sees a vision of the Virgin Mary. Ann Holmes seems an unlikely candidate for a revelation. A sixteen-year-old runaway, she is an itinerant mushroom picker who lives in a tent. One November afternoon, in the foggy woods of North Fork, Washington, the Virgin comes to her, clear as day. Is this delusion, a product of her occasional drug use, or a true calling to God? Gradually word spreads, and thousands converge upon the already troubled town having an instant impact on the local residents.

General comments:- 

Guterson has a great way with words but very unconventional as the quotations below demonstrate.  Tthis is writing by a skilled craftsman.

A fair amount of soul-searching is inevitable among the various witnesses to Ann’s visions. In turn there is opportunity for a bit of soul-searching among the book’s readership. This is one of those books that makes you think outside the box.

“Well who’s the patron saint of lunatics?”
“Strange you should ask because I happen to know. Christina the Astonishing, she was called. Her feast day is my birthday, July twenty fourth. She’s also the patron of therapists.”

There are no words, God is ineffable, the name of God cannot be spelled, to look for God with the tools of man is like trying to capture the sun’s light in our hands, perhaps, he thought, I should have been a Jew, that quaint Jewish simile makes perfect sense...

Did God make sense, though, in the end? The God who turned Lot’s wife into a salt pillar merely for looking back at the brimstone falling as prophesied across the plain, the God who spoke with Abraham as though they were negotiating the price of a used car to determine the number of righteous men it would take to save the two cities? God wanted fifty but Abraham worked him down to ten by employing deference, humility and flattery, I who am but dust and ashes, let not the Lord be angry and so on, the same God who later toyed with Abraham by asking him to bind his son, arrange the boy on a sacrificial pyre, then slit his throat with a knife. Just kidding, said God at the last moment. Just checking to see how loyal you are. God the insecure Mafia don. God the malevolent psychotherapist.

AUTHOR Notes:-
David Guterson was born in Seattle in 1956. Guterson received his M.A. from the University of Washington, where he studied under the writer Charles Johnson. It was there that he developed his ideas about the moral function of literature: "Fiction writers shouldn't dictate to people what their morality should be," he said in a recent interview. "Yet not enough writers are presenting moral questions for reflection, which I think is a very important obligation."

After moving to Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, Guterson taught English at the local high school and began writing journalism for Sports Illustrated and Harper's magazine, where he is now a contributing editor. His books include a collection of short stories, The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind (coming from Vintage in Spring 1996), Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense, and Snow Falling on Cedars, which won the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Review:- Rob EASTAWAY – “How many socks make a pair?”

Year Published: - 2008
Where the book was from:- Gift from Mark
ISBN: - 978-1-906217-59-4
Pages: - 174pp
Genre: - Popular Mathematics
Location:- -
How I came across it: - Gift from Mark
Rating: - ***** **
One sentence summary:- A refreshing look at mathematics and some of the many different ways it impacts upon our life.

General comments:-
Described as showing the world of mathematics to be ‘surprising, amusing and even beautiful’. I can accept the first two but ‘beautiful’ ??? The book certainly gives some fascinating insights to someone like me who has little knowledge and understanding of the subject. Maths remains ‘not my cup of tea’ but it was an interesting read.

AUTHOR Notes:- Rob Eastaway is one of the UK’s leading pupularisers of maths and has written a number of books and articles. He even appears on radio and live on stage at locations ranging from the Royal Institution to Pentonville Prison.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Review:- Alanna KNIGHT – “The Coffin lane Murders”

Year Published: - 1998
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 0 7540 3723 1
Pages: - 235pp (Large print)
Genre: - Victorian Crime
Location:- Edinburgh
How I came across it: - Pensby library booksale
Rating: - ***** **
One sentence summary:- The eleventh in a series of books about Edinburgh’s Inspector Faro

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
Another Case for Inspector Jeremy Faro, Edinburgh's Victorian Detective The frantic arrival of PC Dean at Inspector Faro's door one winter morning brings news of the first killing in Coffin Lane. Accompanied by his step-son Vince and Vince's partner at the surgery, Dr Conan Pursley, Faro rushes to a horrific scene. For a trail of blood through the snow leads to the body of a young woman, a knife wound in her chest. Molly Blaith had been on her way to post a letter for her employer Miss Errington. Or had she? For such a journey should not have taken her down Coffin Lane. Did she have an assignation?

General comments:- 
Fairly typical cosy crime with an unusual setting - Edinburgh in Victorian times.   The 'villian' was a bit predictable but one perhaps shouldn't judge a whole series on the basis of one novel. 
Inspector Faro novels
1. Enter Second Murderer (1988)
2. Blood Line (1989)
3. Deadly Beloved (1989)
4. Killing Cousins (1990)
5. A Quiet Death (1991)
6. To Kill a Queen (1992)
7. The Evil That Men Do (1993)
8. The Missing Duchess (1994)
9. The Bull Slayers (1995)
10. Murder by Appointment (1996)
11. The Coffin Lane Murders (1998)
12. The Final Enemy (2002)
13. Unholy Trinity (2004)
14. Faro and the Royals (2005)
15. Murder in Paradise (2008)


AUTHOR Notes:- Alanna Knight was born in Scotland in 1923 and also writes under the name Margaret Hope.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Review:- Marina LEWYCKA – “A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian”

Year Published: - 2005
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978-0-141-02052-5
Pages: - 325pp
Genre: - General fiction, Humour, Ukraine
Location:- UK
How I came across it: - much reviewed
Rating: - ***** ****
One sentence summary:- A hugely enjoyable account of the reaction of two warring systems when they are brought together by a common enemy – their father’s new girlfriend.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
“For years, Nadezhda and Vera, two Ukrainian sisters, raised in England by their refugee parents, have had as little as possible to do with each other - and they have their reasons. But now they find they'd better learn how to get along, because since their mother's death their aging father has been sliding into his second childhood, and an alarming new woman has just entered his life. Valentina, a bosomy young synthetic blonde from the Ukraine, seems to think their father is much richer than he is, and she is keen that he leave this world with as little money to his name as possible. If Nadazhda and Vera don't stop her, no one will. But separating their addled and annoyingly lecherous dad from his new love will prove to be no easy feat - Valentina is a ruthless pro and the two sisters swiftly realize that they are mere amateurs when it comes to ruthlessness. As Hurricane Valentina turns the family house upside down, old secrets come falling out, including the most deeply buried one of them all, from the War, the one that explains much about why Nadazhda and Vera are so different. In the meantime, oblivious to it all, their father carries on with the great work of his dotage, a grand history of the tractor.”

General comments:-
Orange Prize for Fiction (nominee)
Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Writing
The Booker Prize (nominee)
Waterstone's Newcomer of the Year

The author’s own background suggests there is an element of the autobiography in this “riotous oil-painting of senility, lust and greed..’ (Economist)

Between seven and ten million people died across Ukraine during the man-made famine of 1932-3.

“...if all women were to wear paint on their faces, just think, there could be no more natural selection. The inevitable result would be the uglification of the species.”

He shifts his voice into an easy narrative gear. He is in control now, driving his tractor across the crumbling furrows of the past.

I remember when Christmas dinner was a big fat bird with salt-crisped skin and oily h
juices oozing out of it, fragrant with garlic and marjoram and kasha stuffed in its plump tummy and roasted shallots and chestnuts round the side, and home-made wine that made us all tipsy, and a white cloth and flowers on the table, even in winter, and silly presents, and laughter and kisses. This woman who has taken the place of my mother has stolen Christmas and replaced it with boil-in-the-bag food and plastic flowers.

“Nadia, why do you always go scrabbling around in the past?” Her voice is tense, brittle. “The past is filthy. It’s like a sewer. You shouldn’t play there. Leave it alone. Forget it.”


AUTHOR Notes:- Marina LEWYCKA was born of Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp in Kiel, Germany, at the end of World War II and grew up in England. She teaches at Sheffield Hallam University and is married with a grown-up daughter.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Review:- Jason GOODWIN – “The Janissary Tree”

Year Published: - 2006
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 1 84632 791 1
Pages: - 504pp large print
Genre: - Crime, Ottoman Empire,
Location:- Istanbul 1836
How I came across it: - Pensby Lib book sale
Rating: - ***** ****
One sentence summary:- Yashim the Eunuch is given two task at the same time – trace the murders of four of the Sultan’s new guard and find out who strangled one of the Sultan’s ‘daughters of felicity’ within the harem.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
Istanbul has had ten years to recover from the ‘Auspicious Event’ which is how the Sultan titled the removal of the Janissary – guards / soldiers who had got too big for their boots. But has it? Or are there still rumblings under the surface as Mahmut II is about to issue a major Edict. Yashim the eunuch is chosen by the head of the Imperial Ottoman army to investigate the disappearance of four of his officers but Yashim is distracted by a request from the Sultan’s mother to find her missing jewels and trace the killer of a girl in the harem.

General comments:-
As always i enjoy learning about times past and places far away. The atmosphere of nineteenth century Istanbul is captivating and the underlying humour of the book doesn’t hide a cleverly crafted plot. The New York Times described it as ‘The perfect escapist mystery’.

There are now three Yashim the Eunuch novels:-
1. The Janissary Tree (2006)
2. The Snake Stone (2007)
3. The Bellini Card (2008)


Already his story, somewhat improved from its first rendition, was being retailed with appropriate embellishments among latecomers to the scene, and within the hour several versions of events were circling through the city. By lunchtime these stories were so finely rounded that two of them were able to actually pass each other without the slightest friction...

AUTHOR Notes:- Jason GOODWIN studied Byzantine history at Cambridge and has written several books on cultural history and travel. He lives in Sussex and is married with four children. He speaks German and French and once walked from Istanbul to Poland.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Review:- Tadg FARRINGTON – “The Average Life of the Average Person”

Year Published: - 2009
Where the book was from:- Gift from GB
ISBN: - 9780224086233
Pages: - 395pp
Genre: - Non fiction; statistics; humour; general knowledge.
Location:- Relates to the UK
How I came across it: - Browsing in Linghams bookshop
Rating: - ***** *****
One sentence summary:- A brilliant, fascinating miscellanea which, with a degree of tongue-in-cheek use of statistics, gives a wonderful insight into life in Britain today.

General comments:- 

A human lifespan is, on average, seventy-nine years. in that time a person living in the UK will eat on average 479 fish fingers, take 7,163 baths, shed 121 pints of tears, dream 104,390 dreams, g through 1,033 chickens, buy 733 balloons and spend £658 on Christmas crackers.

I think the average person will love this book even if it is only to find out that the Tooth Fairy has an annual turnover of £20 million.


“There seems to be a point where birthdays change from being a celebration of life top being a celebration of not being dead.”

“The lack of oxygen in your venous blood turns it a dark blue colour. You will never see this colour because the instant you cut yourself, the oxygen in the air turns the blood red again.”

“You replace your entire skin every two weeks. In a lifetime you get through 2,064 suits of skin.”

“There is no perfume company developing an aftershave with the great smell of Camembert.” (Oh, how I agree. I really abhor the smell of Camembert and insist that when we have it in the fridge it is suitably wrapped to avoid polluting the atmosphere.)

“One thing all your ancestors have in common is that they had sex. You are the result of 3.8 billion years of winning a mate, having sex with them and successfully raising at least one child who was able to do the same. ... You might want to explain to your date that the desire you feel rises from a feeling of responsibility top your ancestors to forge the next link of the chain with the best possible partner. You should also tell this lucky individual that your ancestors will reward both of you by flooding your brains with dopamine and endorphins at the crucial moment.”

“There was a frenzy of military mobilisation provoked by Mr Hitler unexpectedly starting the war early. |amid the chaos, someone thought to bring the vast quantities of tea stored in warehouses around the London docks under government control. In the dark years ahead, tea would be vital. Just four days after the war began, the national tea stocks were dispersed to secret rural locations all over the country lest the Luftwaffe reduce Britain’s morale to a burning pile of leaves.”

AUTHOR Notes:- Tadg Farrington is a writer living in Scotland – and that is all the book jacket tells us! A little research says he is an independent editor and writer, lives in Edinburgh and was at Aberdeen University from 1986 to 1991which suggests he was born around 1968.

Review:- Deryn LAKE - Death at St James's Palace

Year Published: - 2002
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 0-7531-7245-3
Pages: - 354pp (Large Print)
Genre: - Historical crime
Location:- London, 1761
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** ****
One sentence summary:-  Lots of secrets among the nobility of London in 1761 come out as the apothecary John Rawlings investigates a fall down the stairs at St James’s Palace. 

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
Famous magistrate John Fielding – known as the Blind Beak to the mob - is to be honoured with a knighthood. Founder of the Runners, London's metropolitan police force, John Fielding is one of several important members of the community who gather at St James's Palace for the investiture. As the invited audience eagerly crane for a first glimpse of George III’s new queen - widely rumoured to be the ugliest the country has ever seen - a terrible accident occurs when one of the crowd, a nobleman George Goward, tumbles down the great staircase to his death. Of all the assembled gathering, not one person saw him begin to fall. But the Blind Beak is suspicious and sets his friend, the apothecary John Rawlings, to investigate.

General comments:- 
Based on a number of real historical figures the portrayal of this period (one I know little about) is fascinating and, from what I can tell, well researched.  I suspect that if one were a Londoner and knew all the places mentioned in the story it would be even more interesting but a knowledge of London is not essential by any means..
This is the eighth book in the John Rawlings series which includes:-

1. Death in the Dark Walk (1994)
2. Death At the Beggar's Opera (1995)
3. Death At the Devil's Tavern (1996)
4. Death on the Romney Marsh (1998)
5. Death in the Peerless Pool (1999)
6. Death at Apothecaries' Hall (2000)
7. Death in the West Wind (2001)
8. Death at St. James's Palace (2002)
9. Death in the Valley of Shadows (2003)
10. Death in the Setting Sun (2005)
11. Death and the Cornish Fiddler (2006)
12. Death in Hellfire (2007)
13. Death and the Black Pyramid (2009)

AUTHOR Notes:- Deryn Lake is the pseudonym of a well-known historical novelist, Dinah Lampitt, who joined the popular ranks of historical detective writers with her gripping John Rawlings Mysteries, Death in the Dark Walk, Death at the Devil's Tavern, Death on the Romney Marsh, Death in the Peerless Pool and Death at Apothecaries' Hall. Deryn Lake lives near Hastings, East Sussex

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Review:- Lauren LIEBENBERG - "The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam"

Year Published: - 2008
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 9781844084647
Pages: - 245 pp
Genre: - Social life and customs during Chimurenga War
Location:- Rhodesia / Zimbabwe; 1970s
How I came across it: - Read various bloggers’ reviews
Rating: - ***** *
One sentence summary:-
Set against the convulsive backdrop of war and a country's death throes, this novel explores themes of loss, guilt and redemption in Rhodesia.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam is an evocation of childhood partly funny but principally full of sadness and grief. It tells the story of two young sisters, Nyree and Cia O'Callohan, who live on a remote farm in the East of what was Rhodesia in the late 1970s. Theirs is a seductive world laced with African paganism, bastardised Catholicism and the lore of the Brothers Grimm - until their idyll is shattered forever by their orphaned cousin, Ronin. His arrival at the farm sets in motion a chain of events that result in tragedy and the loss of innocence.

General comments:-
There is no doubt this is a clever and well-written book but it’s not my style (hence the comparatively poor rating). I cannot say what I didn’t like about it and I can understand why it received such rave reviews.

It was so long ago, though, and I was only a child. I consider how much of what I remember is the truth.

Cia is my sister and I am her leader. The two of us are sitting on the flagstone steps outside the kitchen door and eating our peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Cia peels hers apart, as she always does, and slowly licks out the filling, while I squish the slices of bread together between my palms until they turn doughy and ooze peanut butter and jam goo, then gulp it down.

I am glad that everywhere he goes Ronin will always take himself.

AUTHOR Notes:- In 2008 Liebenberg was shortlisted in 2008 for the Orange new writers award and The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam was longlisted for the Orange prize for fiction.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Review:- C J SANSOM – “Dissolution”

Year Published: - 2003
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978-0-330-45079-9
Pages: - 462pp
Genre: - Historical Fiction
Location:- Sussex, 1537
How I came across it: - Gift from Bryony
Rating: - ***** ***
One sentence summary:- Matthew Sheldrake, a commissioner to Thomas Cromwell, is sent to a monastery to establish the cause of death of a previous commissioner.


Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
In 1537 Henry VIII had recently proclaimed himself head of the church and was rooting out catholicism and endeavouring to dissolve the monasteries. The smaller monasteries are encouraged to dissolve voluntarily but when a commissioner is sent to the monastery at Scarnsea on the Sussex coast he is murdered. Matthew Shardlake is sent by Thomas Cromwell to investigate and gets snowed in there with a murderer on the loose and a posse of recalcitrant monks to cope with.

General comments:-
This is not my favourite period in history and I was not anticipating enjoying it as much as I did. Because it’s not my favourite I knew comparatively little about it and certainly learned a fair bit.
There are four other Matthew Shardlake novels –
Dark Fire,

One thing that really annoyed me (and probably lost it a whole asterisk) was the fact that the plan of the monastery in the front of the book did not translate into the text. (And I don’t just mean it failed to show hidden passages or whatever – it was inaccurate and obviously so from the start where Shardlake enters the gate and can see things which are actually around a corner. The cloister walk is also misplaced.)


“You are both the same, reformers and papists, you fashion beliefs which you force the people to follow on pain of death, while you struggle for power and lands and money, which are all any iof you truly want.”

AUTHOR Notes:- British born C J SANSOM earned a Ph.D. in history and, before becoming a full-time writer, was a lawyer.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Review:- Tony HILLERMAN – “Dance Hall of the Dead”

Year Published: - 1973
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - -
Pages: - 255pp
Genre: - Crime
Location:- Navajo Tribal Lands, USA
How I came across it: - Gift from Carol
Rating: - ***** ***
One sentence summary:- Joe Leaphorn of the Navajo Tribal Police tracks the brutal killer of a young boy of the Zuni while, at the same time, a young Navajo disappears.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- 
Joe is one of six different agencies involved in solving this crime which may, or may not, have been committed by the missing Navajo boy.

General comments:-
I found this less complex a background than The Blessing Way. As a result the interest about the Navajo and Zuni cultures was more easily understood and fascinating. As a thriller it was good but it is the style of writing and the Native American background that make this so readable.

‘Leaphorn came from the Taadii Dinee, the Slow-Talking People Clan. The fathjer of his mother was Nashibitti, a great singer of the Beutyway and the Mountainway, and the other curing rites, and a man so wise that it was said the people of Beautiful Mesa added Hosteen to his name when he was less than thirty – calling him Old Man when he was far too young to be a grandfather....’

‘A boy had been killed without reason. Leaphorn’s rational mind would not accept this. Not even the grasshopper took wing without reason.

AUTHOR Notes:- Tony HILLERMAN see The Blessing Way

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Review:- Carol LAKE – “The Horse is Out of Order”

Year Published: - 1994
Where the book was from:- Gift from Carol
ISBN: - 0-9642362-2-2
Pages: - 70pp
Genre: - Creative writing
Location:- -
How I came across it: - Gift
Rating: - ***** ****
One sentence summary:- A set of eminently readable essays giving sage advice about the writing and the writing life.

General comments:-

I have read a number of books about ‘getting published’ but none so enjoyable. Carol’s writing is fun to read and instructive. it’s a long time since I read the other books but I suspect I learned less from their hundreds of pages than I did from Carol’s little book. One brief example is that when I write I tend to want to get all the information at my fingertips into the piece I’m writing. My recent blog on Pencils is a classic example.

As Carol points out ‘Sometimes, though, even more important than knowing what to include is knowing what to leave out – and when to stop’.

AUTHOR Notes:-
Carol LAKE has taught creative writing at Lake Washington Technical College in Kirkland, Washington. She is the author of various newspaper and magazine articles and a collection of short stories “Cherry Blossom Tea”.

Review:- Fiona McINTOSH – “Myrren’s Gift”

Year Published: - 2003
Where the book was from:- Gift from Bryony
ISBN: - 978 1 84149 373 2
Pages: - 662pp
Genre: - Fantasy
Location:- Morgravia / Briavel
How I came across it: - Gift
Rating: - ***** ***
One sentence summary:- Wyl Thirsk, General of the Morgravian Legion, is forced to watch the torture of Myrren, an alleged witch, and gives what comfort he can; in return for this she gives him a unique gift which stands him in good stead when he is shorn of friends and allies in later years.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
This is the first part of a trilogy entitled The Quickening. Fairly typical fantasy plot with the good guy isolated from friends and allies as he goes about his business of rescuing princesses, etc. The eponymous gift is, however, something quite unusual and sets this Fiona McIntosh work apart from many similar books.

General comments:-
I haven’t read any fantasy novels for ages and seemed to have gone off them but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Not sure if I’m going to finish the trilogy but if I do the first one is memorable enough for me to catch up with the action after quite a break.

AUTHOR Notes:-
Fiona McINTOSH is a fantasy author who lives in Australia. She was born in Brighton in 1960 and between the ages of three and eight, travelled a lot to Africa due to her father's work. At the age of nineteen she travelled first to Paris and later to Australia, where she has lived ever since. She also writes under the pseudonym Lauren Crow.