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Posted: Tue September 3rd, 2013, 1:19 pm
by Madeleine

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood - this collection of 12 short stories is the debut book by this author, and she's an excellent writer, although I felt that most of the stories sort of fizzled out, except for the title story, and another called Blue Moon, about the residents of a very unusual nursing home. She's also very good at conjuring up atmosphere, especially in the penultimate story, Wisht, but ultimately I felt a lot of the stories were somewhat inconclusive - I don't mind things being left open-ended, but most of these stories just seemed to stop, and felt unfinished. However she's very promising, and I'd be interested to see if she can come up with a full-length novel. 6.5/10

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes - the latest novel to feature one of the Walsh sisters, this one focuses on the youngest, Helen, who is a private investigator who's fallen on hard times and has to move back in with her parents. A former boyfriend, Jay, employs her to help him find the missing member of a boy band who are about to reform and embark on a series of lucrative concerts. However, most of the book seems to focus on Helen's back story and her obsession with the d├ęcor of her missing man's house, as well as her battle with depression, and for a lot of the book the main story seems to almost have been forgotten about, and after about 2/3rds I skimmed the rest just to find out if she did find the missing pop star, and I thought the ending was almost too neatly tied up. I know the author has recently suffered another bout of depression herself and I wonder if this has affected her writing, for at times the book definitely rambled, or maybe it just needed editing? I've read many of her other books and loved them, but this one just seemed to lack something - even the usually irrepressible Mammy Walsh seemed to be under-used, and came across as just plain silly, and several of the other characters were downright irritating. Very disappointing. 5/10

Briefs Encountered by Julian Clary - an entertaining novel by the comedian, which is set in the country house once owned by Noel Coward, and where the author himself now lives. It's a dual time-frame, switching between the 1920s when Coward lived in the house, to the present day, when actor Richard Stent buys the house and finds there are some very strange goings-on (Clary himself has said that the house is haunted), and the house itself is a character in it's own right. As the two plots unfold, the stories of both men seem to mirror each other, until eventually they do sort of dovetail. Overall I enjoyed this, it's beautifully written and there is some nice humour (as well as a fair bit of name-dropping) and the ending was unexpected although whimsical. It was difficult to read it without hearing Clary's voice however, especially as he is a supporting character (and sends himself up wickedly) but this was more of a distraction rather than a problem. 7.5/10

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare - this is the first in the Mortal Instruments urban fantasy series, which is probably aimed more at teenagers and YAs but can still be enjoyed by adults, and thankfully, so far at least, lacks the angst and whininess of the Twilight Saga (to which this series has been mooted as the successor). Teenager Clary Fray visits a nightclub, Pandemonium, with her best friend Simon and is startled to witness what she first thinks is a gang attack by 3 other teenagers on a young man. But she soon realises that there is something odd about the killing, and then becomes even more suspicious when it becomes clear that she is the only one in the club who can see the 3 teenagers who carried out the assault. However, she soon befriends one of them, Jace, and when she discovers that her mother has gone missing and a strange monster attacks her in her own home, she has no choice but to join Jace at the so-called Institute, based in a disused cathedral in Manhattan, and learn more about the Shadowhunters, and discovers some surprising, and frightening, facts about herself and her own family. Most of these revelations probably won't come as much of a surprise, however, to seasoned readers of UF, but there is some genuine tension and excitement, as well as some nice dry humour, and it's not always clear who is a goodie and who is a baddie - or perhaps they are both? A promising start to the series (there is a 6th book due out next year) with likeable characters who are fairly believable. 7.5/10

Posted: Tue October 8th, 2013, 1:13 pm
by Madeleine

Dawn on a Distant Shore by Sara Donati - this is the 2nd in the "Wilderness" series which sort of follows on from Last of the Mohicans, in that it follows the fortunes of Hawkeye's son, Nathaniel, who is now married to Elizabeth Middleton, originally from England, and the book begins with Elizabeth giving birth to their twins, whilst Nathaniel, Hawkeye and their friend Robbie have been imprisoned in Montreal on suspicion of spying. Elizabeth duly sets out, accompanied by faithful serving-woman Curiosity (who's actually her father's housekeeper), the twins and Nathaniel's daughter Hannah (from his first marriage) to try to free the men and what follows is lots of escaping, being recaptured and then sailing on various ships to Scotland, where the Earl of Carryck has a claim on Nathaniel's son. Nathaniel's past is also raked up, there are a few revelations and the family are almost constantly on the move. I found this book nowhere near as involving as the first one, which I loved, and at times all the moving around from ship to ship and escapes had me so confused I wasn't sure who was where, and with whom! It's involving enough, but at times did seem a bit convoluted, and there's a lot of Scottish dialect which (with apologies to any Scottish people here) I found difficult to read. Not a bad read but disappointing after the first book. 6.5/10

Water Witch by Carol Goodman - this is the 2nd book in the Fairwick trilogy (in the US it's published under the name Juliet Dark), and it's even more OTT than the first book "Incubus" ("Demon Lover" in the US). It continues the story of faery expert Callie who is still trying to protect the small town and college of Fairwick from the incubus and, this time round, undines - a sort of wayward group of faeries, most of whom are just mischievous but some, including one called Lorelei, are downright dangerous and have been accused of stealing young men from the town (because they have to breed with them). Now the governing body of witches, which includes Callie's grandmother, want to close the door between this world and the fae, meaning that many of Callie's friends and colleagues will either have to go back to the land of the fae forever, or stay in this world and wither and die. And while the door is open, more nasty critters are coming through. It's as crazy as it sounds, and frankly I found Callie so irritating that I was on Lorelei's side when she tried to drown her.... Yes our heroine is one of those silly females who hasn't learned at all from her experiences in the first book, and will basically let any muscular, golden-skinned man over her threshold (and of course all the men who beat a path to her door are muscular and golden-glowing). I almost gave up on it at the halfway mark (which I also nearly did with Incubus) but did finish it; I won't be bothering with the third part as, to be honest, I don't really care what happens to Callie and Co. 5/10

Magus of Stonewylde by Kit Berry - in the first in the series of five books set around the community of Stonewylde, a young girl, Sylvie is in hospital suffering from various allergies and skin conditions and general deterioration, when one of the doctors advises her mum to take her to the community of Stonewylde, deep in the Dorset countryside. The community doesn't normally accept strangers, but the self-appointed leader, Magus, notices something special about Sylvie and she and her mum are soon quickly installed in a small cottage on the estate. Sylvie begins to recover and is soon thriving, and both her and her mum become involved with their new friends. But there is trouble when Sylvie's mother, Miranda, falls for Magus, and when Sylvie herself becomes involved with a Village boy called Yul, Magus is quick to express his displeasure, and it's not just because Villagers and Hallfolk (of which Sylvie is one) aren't meant to mix apart from at the festivals (Stonewylde is a pagan community which tries for the most part to feed and provide for itself, although some members, including Magus, do have jobs in the outside world). It soon becomes obvious that beneath the shiny, happy surface something very sinister is going on, and Magus is not quite they great benefactor that Sylvie and her mother first believe him to be. There's some quite shocking cruelty involved here, which I found rather sad and wasn't what I was expecting, although the book ended on a relatively upbeat note, and I'm intrigued to read more about this little community. All the characters are believable, especially Sylvie and Yul and it'll be interesting to see what happens next. 7/10

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart - successful fashion model Gianetta/Janet feels burned out, so on the recommendation of her parents she takes herself off to a remote hotel on the Isle of Skye for what she hopes will be a relaxing holiday - no chance! First her ex-husband turns up, then she discovers the reason for the tension between the hotel owners and the other residents: a local girl was found brutally murdered a few days previously, and when two women from the hotel go missing and another murder happens, it soon becomes obvious that the murderer is one of the hotel's occupants.....This is really a classic country-house mystery, with all the ingredients in place ie picturesque location, the mixture of personalities - the warring couple, the glamourous female, the handsome young man, a couple of surly locals etc. I thoroughly enjoyed this and found Janet an appealing heroine, and the last few chapters were genuinely tense, if perhaps a little cliched. But it was a fun, entertaining comfort read, and I can see how Mary's appeal has endured - this book was written, and is set, in the 1950s, but the only thing that really dates it is the phenomenal amount of smoking; I'm surprised they had any breath left to do any mountain walking! 8/10

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch - just squeezed this one in before midnight to qualify for October! The second in the Peter Grant series set in modern London but which reads like a cross between a police procedural and an adult Harry Potter, for Peter, who's a constable with the Metropolitan Police, is also a trainee wizard who finds himself walking a fine line between legitimate police-work and the supernatural, and trying to keep things quiet can be extremely difficult. In this book he finds himself looking into the death of a jazz musician, Cyrus Wilkinson - initially the verdict is natural causes, given the usual unhealthy lifestyle of many musicians, but Peter smells "vestigia" on the body, which means that something strange is involved, and when more musicians die suddenly and inexplicably, it looks as if a serial killer is at large. Meanwhile there's also a very frightening female killer around, who has a very unusual MO, and Peter finds himself distracted by Simone, ex-lover of Cyrus and a mystery in her own right. It's an enjoyable read, possibly a little bit technical in places, but has a wry sense of humour and is very fast-paced and well-written. Peter is an engaging, likeable character and things are left set up nicely for the next book in the series. 7.5/10

Posted: Wed November 6th, 2013, 8:53 pm
by Madeleine

The Glass Guardian by Linda Gillard - a whimsical, sweet ghost story in which Ruth, who has in one year had 3 bereavements - her lover, father and adored aunt - goes to live in her aunt's house on Skye (which she has inherited). Many happy childhood holidays were spent there, and she becomes re-acquainted with some old friends from those days, including one who's been dead for almost a hundred years. I thought this was a lovely story, nicely told and with a likeable, believable main character who wasn't a helpless female. I did find the ending a bit too neat and predictable though, but it was still very enjoyable and touching, and well-written. 8/10

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray - Victorian gothic set in a girls' boarding school somewhere outside London. Gemma, who's nearly 16, lived in India until she witnesses her mother's suicide, but the death is officially explained as cholera, and Gemma is packed off back to Britain to attend a school called Spence. There are the usual teenage tribulations, but she gradually settes in, until a trip to some local caves changes everything. Gemma and her friends decide to make the caves their lair, and after a drunken night she agrees to lead them into the Realms. But what forces has she unleashed, and why was her mother, who appears to her in the Realms, so keen to dissuade her? And who is the strange young man who is also trying to keep her away? I enjoyed this, although there are some glaring "modern" clangers eg would a Victorian headmistress refer to someone as "your new room-mate"? It's an exciting enough read, but I'm not too desperate at the moment to read the next two books - yes it's another trilogy! 7/10

The Wine of Angels by Phil Rickman - first in the series of crime novels featuring female vicar Merrily Watkins. We're introduced to Merrily as she arrives in the small Herefordshire town of Ledwardine with her teenage daughter Jane; they're both still recovering from the death of Merrily's ex-husband (and Jane's father) in a car accident, and their arrival in the town is greeted with mixed feelings from the locals. Even more animosity is created due to the forthcoming staging of a one-man play about Wil Williams, a 17th century priest who hanged himself after being accused of witchcraft, and Merrily is in the awkward position of having to decide whether or not to stage the play in the church. Several of the residents are unhappy that some unsavoury details about their ancestors might come out, and they're also dealing with the suicide of an elderly local, and the disappearance of a young girl. Overall I enjoyed this, I've read one of the later books and it was nice meeting the regulars for the first time; I did find some of the story a bit confusing, although all was eventually revealed, and the characters are well-described and, for the most part, likeable. Poor Merrily has certainly got a struggle on her hands though! 7/10

Posted: Thu November 7th, 2013, 7:31 pm
by SonjaMarie
Bummer about giving up on the Fairwick series, I thought the last one was the best. But that's just my opinion. She and her husband really dropped the ball with The Watchtower series, the last book sucked.


Posted: Thu November 7th, 2013, 7:47 pm
by Madeleine
I enjoyed Black Swan Rising, haven't read Watchtower yet, oh dear.

Posted: Thu December 5th, 2013, 1:59 pm
by Madeleine

Heartbreak Hotel by Deborah Moggach - contemporary sort of chick-lit in which retired actor "Buffy" inherits a run-down boarding house in Wales, and decides to leave London and turn it into a B & B. He comes up with the idea of running various courses for people who have come out of relationships and feel a bit lost in some areas of life eg car maintenance, cookery. Through the book we're introduced to Buffy's several ex-wives and various children, as well as the guests, and I felt that the book suffered from having too many characters, especially towards the end, when I started to get irritated at the sheer number of people who popped up briefly, and then went off again; I'd have preferred it if the author had concentrated more on the people from the beginning of the book, who were much more interesting. It's fine as a whimsical, gentle read, with all the relationships neatly tied up at the end, which felt rather rushed. It would make a great TV series though, plenty of potential. 6/10

Shakespeare's Champion by Charlaine Harris - second in the Lily Bard crime series, in which Lily finds herself caught up in the investigation of the murder of a fellow gym member, and when the killing seems to be linked to as group of white extremists who murdered a young black man a few months previously, it looks like the perpetrators may be very close to home, and Lily finds herself in grave danger. It's not a bad book, an easy read but I find Lily a bit irritating - the victim of an appalling attack herself, she seems to go out of her way to find danger, so I don't find her totally convincing. 6.5/10

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness - in a word: interminable. At the end of A Discovery of Witches, which I enjoyed, witch Diana and vampire Matthew time-travelled back to Elizabethan London, and basically they spend most of this book trundling around Europe in this period, meeting various historical figures such as Kit Marlowe, Shakespeare, John Dee and Rabbi Loew (in Prague), and at the end of it - they still can't take that pesky manuscript Ashmole 782 back to the present; yep, after over 500 pages, they finally obtain it - and have to leave it behind. Very disappointing. 5/10

A Christmas Beginning by Anne Perry - gentle murder mystery set on the island of Anglesey in the 19th century - London policeman Runcorn goes to the island for a holiday, and promptly bumps into an old flame. Then a young woman, a friend of his ex, is found murdered and Runcorn finds himself helping with the investigation. And that's it really - there's a nice sense of place and atmosphere, but barely a mention of Christmas, except to say that it's a few weeks away. An OK read. 6/10

A Christmas Secret by Anne Perry - another Victorian mystery in which Reverend Dominic Corde and his wife Clarice arrive in the village of Cottisham to cover for the local reverend, who has suddenly gone on holiday. It soon becomes apparent that there are more sinister reasons for the reverend's sudden departure, and that the pretty village is not all it seems. This is one of the better Anne Perry mysteries I've read, although I did get a little tired of hearing how wonderful the reverend was, but I didn't guess the killer, although I did foresee the final denouement. An entertaining, atmospheric read. 7/10

Red Leaves by Paullina Simons - 4 students - 2 male, 2 female - at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire share a turbulent friendship, and when one of the women is found dead, Detective Spencer O'Malley is drawn into their web of secrets and lies. I found the first part a bit drawn out, but once the investigation started it became quite gripping, although I found the ending a bit sudden and not very convincing. It reminded me a bit of The Secret History - I didn't like anyone in that book either! 7.5/10

A Christmas Guest by Anne Perry - another Victorian mystery in which Mariah is disgusted to be bundled off to her daughter-in-law for Xmas, rather than stay with her own daughter, who has been invited to France. She's even more horrified when another lady, Maude, joins her party and becomes the centre of attention with her tales of life abroad in the East, where she's lived for the last 40 years. Then Maude is found dead in bed, and Mariah decides to investigate, and the usual skeletons come tumbling out of the closet. It's a fairly entertaining mystery, a little lighter than her other novellas that I've read, although I found the number of characters a bit confusing. 6.5/10