Author Archive > elkiedee

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore

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Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, Stella Duffy, book reviewTheodora had to earn a living on the stage since she was five, after her father was killed by his own bear. In her teens she also becomes a prostitute. Yet she ended up as Empress. Not surprisingly, she remains one of the more controversial and colourful figures of the Roman Empire.

In Theodora: Empress, Actress, Whore, Stella Duffy takes some of what is known about Theodora of 6th century Constantinople and turns it into a lively, rollicking historical novel. Theodora is an intelligent young woman who learns and takes on several different roles successfully. This is Duffy’s 12th novel but her first foray into historical fiction.


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The Obscure Logic of the Heart

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The Obscure Logic of the Heart , Priya Basil, book reviewTwo students meet and fall in love, but their very different backgrounds present a huge challenge to their relationship.

Lina is a British Muslim, the daughter of middle class Indian parents, brought up in Birmingham. She cares passionately about making a better society and about human rights, and she is religious. Anil is from a very wealthy privileged Kenyan Asian family, and has been brought up nominally Sikh but belief is not very fundamental to him. While studying in London, Anil and his friends have enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle.


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Lucky Bunny

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Lucky Bunny, Jill Dawson, book reviewLucky Bunny is fiction, but it is presented as the memoir of a female criminal, from her birth in 1933 to the 1960s.

Queenie, as she has chosen to call herself, was born and brought up in London’s East End. Her life of crime starts with stealing some milk, then she moves into shoplifting as a child, often working with older family friends. With her mum in prison for life and her dad in and out, she is brought up largely by her grandmother and her dad’s girlfriends, most of them involved in various illegal activities. She is sent to an approved school, where she meets her best friend Stella, and later to a young offenders’ institution. Her beloved brother Bobby also starts early on a criminal career.


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Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism

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Pink Princesses and Pole Dancers

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter, book reviewThis book is a disturbing account of the ways in which girls and young women are being encouraged to see themselves. It also examines the way that men and boys are conditioned to view women. It includes topics such as pole dancing, prostitution, glamour modelling and lads’ mags, children’s toys and theories on differences between female and male children from a very young age. At times I found it very uncomfortable and depressing reading, but it is well worth reading for the important arguments made.

The book is divided into two halves: The New Sexism and The New Determinism


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The Ghost of Lily Painter

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The Ghost of Lily Painter by Caitlin Davies, book reviewDespite its title, The Ghost of Lily Painter is not really a ghost story; there is a ghost and sections of the story are told from her viewpoint, but it is a story about the various people who have lived in the same house in Holloway, North London, over the years.

In the present, Annie is determined to stay in the house she bought with her husband before they broke up, but doesn’t know financially how she is going to do it. Her day to day activities and worries are observed by the resident ghost, Lily. These include taking her young daughter Molly to auditions for various acting jobs. She starts researching the history of the house in the local library and uncovering its secrets.

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Cold Light

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Cold Light , Jenn Ashworth, book reviewChloe and her boyfriend Carl died 10 years ago and the Council is putting up a memorial to her. Laura follows the local news and goes to work in the shopping centre as a cleaner and remembers what really happened. Chloe’s other friend Emma contacts her. They have been checking up on each other regularly, to find out what the other one knows.

Laura (also known as Lola), Chloe and Emma were 14. Chloe was the confident one. Laura and Emma were not really friends with each other but were rivals to impress Chloe and be her best friend.

This is a very well written novel about some very dark secrets. None of the characters are very likeable, but they are very real, and I think it is an achievement to write such a compelling novel without nice people in it.


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The Free World

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The Free World , David Bezmozgis, book reviewThe Free World opens in a bustling railway station, Vienna’s Western Terminal, where a family struggles to pack their luggage on to a train. It is the late 1970s, and the Krasnanskys are a family of Latvian Jews on their way to the US, or so they think. Their plans to emigrate to the US fall through and their first taste of life in the capitalist West is 4 months in Italy trying to make other arrangements to move on. Cousin Shura in Chicago can no longer sponsor them to travel to the New World.

This sets the scene for a debut novel which combines witty, sharply observed social comedy, with its characters’ darker secrets.


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Q&A with Essie Fox

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Essie Fox, author (The Somnambulist)Essie’s Fox novel set in Victorian London, The Somnambulist, published in May 2011, was quite a treat for fans of historical mysteries.  She started her career as an illustrator and an editorial assistant but now she is becoming a master of Victorian gothic mystery novel. Dividing her time between Windsor and London, she is working on the second novel. After reviewing The Somnambulist we were curious to know more about research and story behind Essie’s literary debut.

CBF: What attracted you to the setting of Victorian England? What do you think is most interesting about that period?

Essie Fox: Oddly enough, when I first started to write I was planning on something contemporary. But every time I began, a character or some ‘item’ from the past would crop up and intrude on the novel’s plot – a letter found under some floorboards, or an antique ornament which had some past significance. Finally, I realised that these were the parts of the story that gave me most ‘excitement’ – and as I’ve always enjoyed reading Victorian novels, whether the old classics or modern day versions, I decided to take the bull by the horns and see if I could do it too.

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The Best of Everything

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The Best of Everything - Rona Jaffe, book review“Fiction places people where they belong in society. There is no such thing he said as a dated novel. The novel set in a particular time gives a picture of that time with all the details of life as it was lived then.” (Elizabeth Jolley)

The Best of Everything is the story of four young women living and working in New York City – their jobs, their living conditions and their love lives. It was first published in 1958, and its subject matter and form have both been used in many popular novels aimed at a female audience since then. Can Rona Jaffe be described as the mother of modern chicklit? Yes, I think she can. Is this book worth a read?


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22 Britannia Road

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22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson, book reviewSilvana and Janusz Nowak are struggling to rebuild a family life together in a new country after years apart, in this beautifully written debut novel by Amanda Hodgkinson.

They married in the late 1930s, settled in Warsaw and had a son, Aurek. Then both the German and Soviet armies invaded Poland and war was declared. He escaped to France and later, through service with the British Army, to England, while Silvana and Aurek have lived rough, foraging for survival.

22 Britannia Road is an end terrace house in Ipswich, England.


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The End of the Wasp Season

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The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina, book reviewThe End of the Wasp Season is 2nd in a series about DS Alex Morrow, a Glaswegian police detective who was introduced in Still Midnight, although I think it could be enjoyed by someone who has not read that book.

It is a crime novel but there is not much of a mystery for the reader, as the story opens with the murder of a young woman, Sarah, in a big house by two teenage boys. One strand of the narrative is about Thomas, one of the killers, and the background to his action. Another is about the police investigation into the crime, led by Morrow, and also about the politics of her workplace.


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The Somnambulist

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The Somnambulist by Essie Fox, book review17 year old Phoebe lives with her mother and her aunt Cissy, a former opera singer at Covent Garden, in a big house in Bow, east London with several servants. When Cissy dies suddenly, Phoebe is devastated. Mama is struggling to make ends meet when Nathaniel Samuels, a wealthy businessman who knew Cissy, makes an offer – of a sort of job as companion to his invalid wife in their Herefordshire mansion. Mrs Lydia Samuels has never got over the tragic death of her young daughter. Phoebe finds herself accidentally discovering a whole series of dark secrets.

The Somnambulist is set in London and Herefordshire and is a sort of Victorian historical melodrama combined with a coming of age tale, with the theatre, a big country house, issues of inheritance and betrayal, and several disturbing secrets.


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