Category > Contemporary fiction

Frog Music

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Frog Music by Emma Donoghue, book reviewSan Francisco at the height of a heat wave with small pox raging. In the middle of that two women caught in a crossfire that leads to murder, Blanche and Jenny. Both are French, though Blanche doesn’t know it and Jenny is a transgendered kind of figure on a bicycle encountered in a crash. Blanche earns her living from dancing in a musical hall cum brothel and her fancy man Arthur and his friend Earnest earn their livings off her. Blanche also has a baby that she rescues from a Dickensian London circumstances in a storm of indignation.

The book actually begins with violent death the way most murder mysteries do. Jenny is shot full of buckshot through a window at night and the pellets skim Blanche’s cheek because she happens to bend over.


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The Broken

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Tamar Cohen, The Broken, book reviewTamar Cohen’s latest book, The Broken, is brilliant. It is the sort of compelling reading that is so difficult to put down and I guarantee it will have you on the edge of your seat as you are reading it. It is a book that you are unlikely to forget in a hurry! So what is it all about?

Josh and Hannah have been best friends with Dan and Sasha ever since their daughters, Lily and September were born four years before. The couples were pretty much inseparable, always round at each other’s houses, taking the girls out or sharing a pint together. Josh and Hannah would never have guessed that there was anything wrong in their friends’ perfect world which is why when, completely out of the blue, Dan announces he is leaving Sasha, they don’t know how to react.


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I Stopped Time

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Jane Davis, I Stopped Time, book reviewWhen Lottie Pye died at the age of 108 she left her whole collection of thousands of photographs to her son James, who she hadn’t seen in almost 80 years. When James happens upon Jenny Jones, a University student studying photography, he decides to let her go through them and catalog them, never realizing that this could finally be a way to get to know both his mother, and himself. This is Jane Davis’ novel I Stopped Time.

I just adore strong female characters, especially those who find their own paths, even if that causes them problems. Lottie Pye is just that type of character – a woman ahead of her time, unwilling to be confined by the dictates of society, even if that causes problems for her or others.


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Junglezen Sheru

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Junglezen Sheru, Samarpan, book reviewFables are few and far between these days unless you count Paolo Coelho and his are tales of mystical human experiences. After Aesop and the Panchatantra, George Orwell’s was the most definite and that was more in cautionery satire territory.

Samarpan’s third book after Tiya and Param, Junglezen Sheru is a story that sets out sounding like The Lion King and then takes quite a different turn, in total contradiction to the Panchatantra tradition which was created to teach princes the principles of kingship through fables featuring animals.


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Campari for Breakfast

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Campari for Breakfast, Sara Crowe, book reviewSue Bowl has been through a lot more in life than most 17 year olds. Her mother, Buddleia, committed suicide, and not long after that, her father took up with another woman. Buddleia’s sister, Aunt Coral, was still mourning the loss of their father when Buddleia took her life. Looking for comfort, and knowing Sue needed some comforting herself, Coral invites her to Egham to spend her gap year in her mother’s ancestral home. Of course, Sue can’t out of Titford fast enough, mostly because she’s sure that Green Place will be the perfect setting to start writing her novel. And while she’s there, perhaps she can find some answers about her mother, with a dash of romance on the side. This is Sara Crowe’s debut novel Campari for Breakfast.

One of the first things readers will find in this book is that it has heap-loads of charm, part of which is due to it taking place in the late 1980s in a semi-rural village outside London.


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That Dark Remembered Day

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That Dark Remembered Day , Tom Vowler, book reviewAround six months ago, I read Tom Vowler’s debut novel What Lies Within and was underwhelmed to say the least. While it showed great promise in the writing, the story itself failed to deliver what was promised and it fizzled out before reaching the satisfying conclusion that the quality of the prose deserved. It was therefore with a sense of disappointment that I saw I had been sent a review copy of Vowler’s second book, That Dark Remembered Day – what if this was another damp squib sent to frustrate me? Fortunately, in the intervening months Vowler seems to have developed quite remarkably as a writer, and this novel is in an altogether higher league that his first offering.

Stephen is a middle-aged son returning to the small town he grew up in to visit his ailing mother, Mary.


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Light Shining in the Forest

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Light Shining in the Forest Paul Torday, book reviewNorman Stokoe is the new “Children’s Czar” of England’s Northumberland, and he has fallen between bureaucratic cracks with the newly formed government. He has a brand new position but no green-light to do anything. Still, with a good salary, his secretary Pippa and an office with a budget, things could be worse. Then Willie, a small-time reporter from a local newspaper, comes to him with a theory about some children who have gone missing. Everyone has labeled them as runaways, but Willie doesn’t believe it. Soon both Pippa and Norman agree, but now they’re on their own to find out the truth.

If one had to choose a tagline for Light Shining in the Forest, Paul Torday’s last novel, it would have to be “Every five minutes a child goes missing in the UK”.


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Mirror City

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Mirror City Chitrita Banerji, book reviewThis is the story of an uneasy marriage between a girl from this side of the river and a boy from that side; the this and that depending on which side of the river you are on. Uma is a Bengali Hindu and her husband Iqbal is a Bangladeshi Muslim. They met in the neutral terrain of America, fell in love and married. As a result of that marriage, Uma has been disowned by her family in Calcutta. Iqbal however has brought his wife back to post 1971 Dhaka where he takes up a university posting and for some inexplicable reason, the marriage gradually begins to fall apart.

The story is told through Uma’s eyes, the growing discomfort of a woman who begins to realise that in Calcutta’s ‘mirror city’ of Dhaka, situations can be quite easily reversed.


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The Pure Gold Baby

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The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret DrabbleAnna seemed like a normal baby when she was born to her unwed mother Jess. As she grew, she seemed ultimately happy. She was the type of child who glowed from within. So when Jess realized that Anna wasn’t normal, that she’d never learn to read or do math, she decided to do everything she could to protect and care for her. But her mostly abandoned career in anthropology continued to hover in her periphery. This is The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble.

Drabble’s style is elegantly simple with a contemplative quality to it, which weaves between being squarely based in reality and the more esoteric and philosophical passages.


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The Crane Wife

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The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness, book reviewSome of you may be familiar with the old Japanese folk tale of the crane wife. It tells of a sail maker who one day finds a wounded crane and nurses it back to health; the day after it flies away, a beautiful woman arrives at the sail maker’s house and he falls in love with her. They marry, and are happy but poor. One day, the wife offers to use her skills to make new sails, but she will only do this as long at the husband promises never to watch her work. The sails that she weaves are stunning and the couple begin to make good money, but over time the husband becomes greedy. He demands that his wife makes more and more sails for him to sell, until eventually he must see how she manages to make her creations.


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A Sixpenny Song

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A Sixpenny Song, Jennifer Johnston, book reviewA man dies of a massive heart attack in his Dublin house. A villain for our modern times, Mr Ross is a rich man employed in the world of finance, who remained distant from his daughter Annie and blind to her passions throughout her childhood. After Annie’s mother died, he sent her away to boarding school in England. Upon her return, he tells her that she is not going to take up her place to study literature at Trinity College, but is instead joining him in the family firm to learn how to make money from money and realise the satisfaction of growing her own assets. After all, he just wants the best for her. Annie responds by fleeing to London, finding a flat in Notting Hill and a job in a bookshop.


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The Goddess and the Thief

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The Goddess and the Thief, Essie Fox, book reviewAlice Willoughby’s mother died soon after she was born, but she had a happy childhood in 19th century India with her beloved ayah, until she was 8, when her father decided to send her home to live with her aunt Mercy in Windsor. Shortly afterwards, he died too.

Alice’s reactions to England contained echoes of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s stories of girls brought up in India and sent back to England, The Secret Garden and The Little Princess. To Alice, Windsor seems damp, dreary and grey compared to India with its beautiful vibrant colours. She finds consolation playing with Mercy’s jewellery, silks and other clothes while her aunt is out, discovering mysterious mementoes of a past that Mercy refuses to talk about.


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