Sunday 29 January 2012

It's been a while since I read a book from Annie Sanders.

I remember really enjoying Goodbye Jimmy Choo some years ago and was looking forward to reading Instructions For Bringing Up Scarlett.

I was not disappointed at all, this is a really clever story, excellently written and pulls on the old heart-strings whilst at the same time bringing a wry smile to the face.

Imagine Rosie; a successful career, lots of foreign travel, no money worries, the occasional good looking guy to hang from her arm - life is good.

 Rosie is godmother to Scarlett, the eleven year old daughter of her oldest and dearest friend Virginia and her husband Piers.

 It took many years for Scarlett to appear, at times Ginny and Piers thought that they would never become parents. Rosie enjoys being the 'fairy' godmother, the person who arrives with her arms full of presents, the person who is fun and quirky, the person who doesn't make the rules.
All that changes the day that Rosie hears the news that Virginia and Piers have been killed in a car accident. Rosie is not just Scarlett's godmother, but her legal guardian too. How on earth is she going to bring up this sad, vulnerable little girl?

The story flits back and forth, from the present day, following Rosie and Scarlett as they come to terms with their loss, as they learn about each other, as they battle Piers' Mother. Virginia's story is also told, using excerpts from her secret diary - the one that started as an open letter to Scarlett. The reader follows Virginia's battles with her Mother in Law, and her other 'battle' - the battle to become a Mother.

This is a touching story, with some difficult themes that have been managed expertly. A very readable story, loveable characters - a cracker of a read.

Saturday 21 January 2012

The Girl on The Cliff ~ Lucinda Riley

The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley, published by Penguin ticks all of my favourites in a book.  It's a story told in a dual time narrative, it's a story of family relationships, it's a romance and at times it's a tragedy.  With almost 450 pages in the paperback edition, it's a hefty read but I found myself flying through it.

There are three main female characters; Aurora - the Girl on the Cliff; Grania - the modern-day heroine and Mary, who was Grania's Great-Grandmother.  

Grania has fled her life in New York after a miscarriage, she is back home in Ireland on the family farm and meets eight year old Aurora one day as she is taking a walk.  Aurora is a strange, mysterious child - friendly and warm, yet older than her years and very lonely.

As Grania and Aurora's friendship grows, Grania's mother becomes more and more uneasy.  There is old history between the two families - things that have happened long ago that cannot be forgiven, yet Aurora is a bewitching child and soon wins over the hardest of hearts.

The story then goes back and forth, revealing the past deeds that have shaped the family as it is today.

The story, the writing and the characters reminded me so much of books by some of my favourite authors; the Harte series from Barbara Taylor-Bradford, the family dynasty tales by Penny Vincenzi and the dramatic family relationships that Lesley Pearse writes so well.

I am delighted to be able to add Lucinda Riley to this stable of wonderful favourite authors.   I had a very tiny criticism of some of the dialogue between Grania's family members, I though the 'Irishness' was a little overdone at times, but that's forgiven as I loved the story so much.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Wishlist Wednesday

I've just been over to Pen To Paper - a great blog hosted by the lovely Dani and noticed that she is hosting Wishlist Wednesday.  Dani's explanation of the meme:
Wishlist Wednesday is a book blog hop where we will post about one book per week that has been on our wishlist for some time, or just added (it's entirely up to you), that we can't wait to get off the wishlist and onto our wonderful shelves.

So, thinking about my wishlist??    It's extraordinarily long, ridiculously long in fact.    I add books to my wishlist all the time, there are books that I really really want to read very soon, books that I'm curious about, books that I want to read one day.  I add books for all sorts of reasons.  

The book that has been on my wishlist for the longest time - probably around 3 or 4 years now is The River Wife by Jonis Agee.   It was published in May 2008 and it's really cheap to buy from Amazon, I guess I've just not got around to buying it yet.  Maybe Wishlist Wednesday will encourage me to actually clean up my wishlist in the future.   Anyway, here's the synopsis (from Amazon), it still sounds good and I still want to read it. 

From acclaimed novelist Jonis Agee, whom The New York Times Book Review called “a gifted poet of that dark lushness in the heart of the American landscape,” The River Wife is a sweeping, panoramic story that ranges from the New Madrid earthquake of 1811 through the Civil War to the bootlegging days of the 1930s.

When the earthquake brings Annie Lark’s Missouri house down on top of her, she finds herself pinned under the massive roof beam, facing certain death. Rescued by French fur trapper Jacques Ducharme, Annie learns to love the strong, brooding man and resolves to live out her days as his “River Wife.” 

More than a century later, in 1930, Hedie Rails comes to Jacques’ Landing to marry Clement Ducharme, a direct descendant of the fur trapper and river pirate, and the young couple begin their life together in the very house Jacques built for Annie so long ago. When, night after late night, mysterious phone calls take Clement from their home, a pregnant Hedie finds comfort in Annie’s leather-bound journals. But as she reads of the sinister dealings and horrendous misunderstandings that spelled out tragedy for the rescued bride, Hedie fears that her own life is paralleling Annie’s, and that history is repeating itself with Jacques’ kin.

Among the family’s papers, Hedie encounters three other strong-willed women who helped shape Jacques Ducharme’s life–Omah, the freed slave who took her place beside him as a river raider; his second wife, Laura, who loved money more than the man she married; and Laura and Jacques’ daughter, Maddie, a fiery beauty with a nearly uncontrollable appetite for love. Their stories, together with Annie’s, weave a haunting tale of this mysterious, seductive, and ultimately dangerous man, a man whose hand stretched over generations of women at a bend in the river where fate and desire collide.

The River Wife 
richly evokes the nineteenth-century South at a time when lives changed with the turn of a card or the flash of a knife. Jonis Agee vividly portrays a lineage of love and heartbreak, passion and deceit, as each river wife comes to discover that blind devotion cannot keep the truth at bay, nor the past from haunting the present.

Sunday 15 January 2012

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

Very small, but oh so beautifully formed.   

The Tiny Wife is really a novella at 88 pages and it is very easy to read the whole book in just one sitting, in fact I expect anyone who picks this up will not put it down again until they have read to the very last line.  

Beautifully presented in a gorgeous little hardback volume - very similar to the Ladybird books that we all know and love from our childhood, and illustrated expertly with silhouette drawings by the very talented Tom Percival.

An astounding story that really amazed me, and yes it can be classed as magical realism, and yes, that's a genre that I usually steer well clear from, but this novel really worked it's magic on me.

So very short, but perfectly put together, not one extra word would be needed and not one word is wasted.

Is it a love story?  Is it a warning?  Is is a fable, or is it just fantasy?   Take a couple of hours out, settle yourself down and read it for yourself - you really won't regret it.

Take a look at the trailer here

Friday 13 January 2012

When You Were Older by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I can hardly believe it is mid January already!  Usually January is a slowish month at work, a time for getting caught up with things, but this year it has been manic.

The effects of the funding cuts are really hitting home now in the voluntary sector and there is a lot of support work to do.  So, my blog has been a little abandoned, despite the amount of books that keep arriving for review.

Yesterday I finished my latest Amazon Vine pick; When You Were Older by Catherine Ryan-Hyde.  It was an excellent read, I enjoyed it very much.

Catherine Ryan-Hyde is a special author, she writes fabulous books for both adults and young adults and I've enjoyed all of her books that I've read so far.

Her books are all very different, but always tackle some sensitive subjects.

When You Were Older is set in the months after 9/11 - September 2001 and is the story of two brothers and their struggle to survive and thrive in what has become a strange new world for them.  

Russell is the younger brother, he bailed out of the small sleepy Kansas town that he was brought up in when he was just out of school.  

Living in New York, working in the World Trade Centre, his life couldn't be more different to that of his brother Ben.    

Ben still lives in that small town, he is mentally disabled and lives his life to a set routine, day in, day out.    

Russell receives the call to tell him that his mother has died on the morning of 11 September, the phone call makes him late for work, as he rushes about trying to make up lost time, he glances out of the window and sees smoke pouring from one of the towers of the World Trade Centre.  It is at that moment that his life changes forever.

Catherine Ryan Hyde
Russell goes back to Kansas.   Ben needs to be cared for, but Ben doesn't even understand that their Mom is dead.

This is a truly moving story, the writing is remarkable and enchants the reader.  

Russell has his faults, and Ben can be incredibly frustrating but Catherine Ryan-Hyde paints a picture of siblings that love and care for each other.

It is especially poignant when the reader learns just how Ben came to be brain damaged, and how that incident changed the balance of their relationship.

The character of Anat; an Eygptian girl who works in a local bakery, and helps Russell through this confusing and emotional time is beautifully drawn.

This is a love story, and a story of family dynamics.  It is a story about people's reactions to life-changing events, how many people feel the need to have someone to blame.  It's about injustices and hate, but also about friendship and loyalty.

A very satisfying read that will stay in my mind for quite a while.

Monday 2 January 2012

Oliver Twisted by J D Sharpe

Electric Monkey is a new Young Adult imprint from Egmont Press that will be launched in February 2012 with three brand new titles. One of these is Oliver Twisted by J D Sharpe. When the author contacted me to ask if I would read and review Oliver Twisted, I was very unsure.
Marketed as 'supreme fusion of the eternal classic with horror Victorian England but not as we know it', this is so far out of my comfort zone that I was actually a little bit scared at the thought of it. Add to that the suggestion of blood sucking vampires and other such nasties and I was all set to refuse.

However, there was something that intrigued me about all of this, not least the fabulous looking cover so I took a deep breath and said yes, of course I'll read it.

And I've read and enjoyed every page of this gory, horrifying tale of terror and monsters and evil.  The writing is wonderful and although the plot line is fabulously over the top, J D Sharpe really knows how to weave an exciting adventure.  She also knows how to make the reader grimace in horror and gasp in shock as more and more evil is unleashed upon Victorian London.  

All of Dicken's original Oliver Twist characters are included in this re-telling of that well-loved classic.   Who knew that Fagin was a soul-stealer?  Or that Bill Sykes was a werewolf?    

Oliver knows that his destiny is one of good but must escape the evil that surrounds him - avoiding the woe-begottens that would feed on his flesh, the zombies and the were wolves is a roller coaster ride of an adventure.  

JD Sharpe portrays the dark and gothic streets with ease and pulls the reader into the mist and gloom and terror of the dark London nights easily.

I can't say that I'm fully converted to vampires and zombies but I can say with honestly that I really enjoyed this debut novel.  

I wish Jasmine every success with this novel and also to Electric Monkey in their new venture.

Many thanks to Jasmine for sending my copy for review.