Archive > July 2011

When Will There be Good News?

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When Will There be Good News? by Kate Atkinson, book reviewWhen Will There be Good News?” is the third of Kate Atkinson’s crime novels featuring Jackson Brodie, and picks up a couple of years after One Good Turn. Quite a bit has happened in Brodie’s life in the intervening period, and also in the life of Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe, who was introduced in One Good Turn and is one of the major characters in “When Will There be Good News?” Kate Atkinson is very skilled at drip feeding the back stories of her characters throughout her book – at the end a complete picture has emerged, explaining how and why certain earlier events have happened. There are certainly plenty of unexpected developments here, right until the last chapter, and the plot is of the highest quality.

Several plot strands run throughout the book.


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The Good Muslim

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The Good Muslim - Tahmima Anam, book reviewWhen India won its independence from Britain in 1947, the giant India of the empire days was split into three parts with the creation of two new states – India and Pakistan. Pakistan was the name given to two large pieces of land to the north west and north east of the new India which were called West and East Pakistan. Separated geographically, economically and politically this uneasy split country lasted less than a quarter of a century with East Pakistan winning its independence from the west to become the country we now know as Bangladesh in 1971. Lasting less than a year, the Bangladesh War of Independence isn’t one that you tend to hear much about – most likely it was overshadowed by the war in Vietnam – or one about which many books have been written. The Good Muslim is the third book I’ve read about the war and its impact on civilians and like the others (Noor by Sorraya Khan and A Golden Age, also by Tahmina Anam) I was shocked and utterly fascinated by the abuses of the war and the impact of their aftermath.

The Good Muslim is a tale of two siblings – brother Sohail Haque and sister Maya Haque – and to a lesser extent, their widowed mother Rehana.


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Pure

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 Pure Andrew Miller , book reviewPure, by Andrew Miller, is a novel about the demolition of a cemetery in pre-revolutionary Paris, and it would be hard to think of a much more gothic premise for a book. The cemetery is les Innocents, a place filled to overflowing with the remains of countless generations of Parisians, rich and poor. Les Innocents has been closed to new interments but retains its priest, an organist and a verger. However, it has become an offense and health hazard to the surrounding area. The Minister commissions a young engineer from the country, Jean-Baptiste Baratte, to undertake the demolition of the cemetery and its buildings, and Pure is the story of the subsequent events.


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The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India

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The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India by Siddhartha DebThe Beautiful and the Damned is a collection of five essays by Siddhartha Deb which lifts the lid on aspects of Indian life that are outside the experience and exposure of most outsiders who visit the country. In some respects, Deb himself is an outsider, coming from the far north east of the country in Shillong, an area that looks like it should belong to some other country, squeezed as it is between Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma and China. His family were East Bengalis, fleeing from the new land of East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) into an area where they didn’t fit amongst the locals. It’s a fascinating background to which he offers us only the occasional glimpse because this is not Deb’s story; it’s the story of ordinary and extraordinary people living in the world’s biggest Democracy in the new Millennium. People for whom the economic boom is making either an enormous or a negligible difference to their lives – all depending on where they stand on the economic ladder. For an India-phile like myself, it’s compulsive reading.


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One Good Turn

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One Good Turn: A Jolly Murder Mystery - Kate Atkinson, book review“Matryoshka is the word of the day”, says one of the characters in One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson, her second crime novel to feature Jackson Brodie. And the structure of the book does seem to take its lead from the Russian nesting dolls which crop up from time to time throughout the story. I tend to like books with a strong structure, and certainly Atkinson adopts one here; she is playing with the form of the crime novel, although not to the detriment of either plot or character development.

One Good Turn picks up Jackson Brodie about two years after the end of Case Histories. He is visiting Edinburgh during the festival along with his actress girlfriend, who is performing in a play.


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The Coffee Trader

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The Coffee Trader - David Liss, book reviewIt is a skilled author that can create a central character who is quite deceitful and ruthless yet still manages to have the readers rooting for him. Miguel Lienza tries to fix the markets by selling things he doesn’t actually own and even obtains credit for his schemes secretly in his brother’s name, but those who would put an end to any chances of him being successful are so much more odious and underhand that you would forgive Miguel almost anything.

Miguel Lienza is a Portuguese Jew living in Amsterdam and trying to make a decent living on the stock market, at the time the most important trading floor in Europe. When the story opens Miguel is living in the basement of his brother Daniel’s house; he’s recently been down on his luck after losing a great deal of money trading in futures.


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The Art of the Picts

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The Art of the Picts: Sculpture and Metalwork in Early Medieval Scotland - George Henderson and Isabel Henderson, book reviewThe Art of the Picts by George Henderson and Isabel Henderson is an in-depth look at the art of the Pictish peoples, who lived in Scotland in the 6th to 9th centuries. Both authors are renowned experts in the field, so we can be assured that we are in good hands.

First published in hardback form in 2004, The Art of the Picts is now being published in a more manageable paperback format. I have been reading the paperback edition, due for publication in August 2011, and given the weight of it I am glad I didn’t attempt the hardback.

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My Best Friend’s Girl

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My Best Friend's Girl - Dorothy Koomson, book reviewI had never read any books by Dorothy Koomson before, but the title of this book – ‘My Best Friend’s Girl‘ really intrigued me so I bought it. I was so glad that I did read it as it introduced me to a fantastic author, Dorothy Koomson, who is now one of my firm favourites.

I will just give a brief outline of the story of ‘My Best Friend’s Girl‘ without giving too much away I promise! We learn very early on in the book (in fact you learn this on the back cover) that Adele, the young mother of five year old Tegan, is dying from leukaemia. She has very little family so asks her best friend Kamryn to become Tegan’s legal guardian and eventually adopt her after she dies!


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Fashion since 1900

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Fashion Since 1900 (World of Art) by Valerie Mendes, Amy de la Haye, book reviewSince the beginning of the twentieth century fashion has undergone some remarkable changes, affected in part by a recession, two world wars, a huge increase in consumerism and more recently the influence of the Internet. In their study “Fashion since 1900”, Valerie Mendes and Amy de la Haye trace these changes, focusing on hairstyles, accessories and makeup as well as clothes. Whether you want to know which celebrities were setting the trends, which designers were most influential or how international events were changing the way people dressed, you will find something to interest you here.

The book is divided into ten chapters that are arranged chronologically, going from “1900-1913: Undulations and Exotica” in Chapter 1 up to “2000-: Planet Fashion” in the final chapter.

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The Subtle Knife

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The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials)  Philip Pullman, boook review How do you even begin to write about a book like this? A book so unlike any you have read before, a book so absorbing, so original, so intelligent and so magnificently written? A book that makes you want to rush home from work just so that you can pick it up again and find out what happens next? It’s not any easy thing to do, I can tell you. I am sure that many people have been put off trying the His Dark Materials series (of which this is the second installment) because it has been unfairly labelled as children’s fiction; let me assure you that this is a story that works on many levels and is just as good for adults as it is for children. It is the best fantasy adventure I have read since the Chronicles of Narnia (and that, for me, is saying a lot). So, how do I begin? Well, the opening seems like a good place…

“Will tugged at his mother’s hand and said, ‘Come on, come on…’. But his mother hung back. She was still afraid.


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Instructions for Bringing up Scarlett

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Instructions for Bringing Up Scarlett - Annie Sanders, book reviewInstructions for Bringing up Scarlett‘ is the latest book from Annie Sanders, who is in fact two people – Annie Ashworth and Meg Sanders – who write together very successfully. In this book, a young girl is tragically orphaned when her parents are killed in a car accident and it is left to her mum’s best friend, Alice Mclean to bring her up as she is now the legal guardian. With a successful career, an enjoyable single life and no real experience of children, this is a daunting task for Alice. Somehow though, she and Scarlett need to find a way to muddle through and carve out a life together. ‘Instructions for Bringing up Scarlett‘ tells the wonderful story of how this happens, and is at times painful but rewarding for both of them.

The storyline is in many ways similar to Dorothy Koomson’s ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ and Rowan Coleman’s ‘The Accidental Mother’ but in other ways it is also very different so don’t think that it is more of the same.


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The Collaborator

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The Collaborator (Paperback) by Margaret Leroy, book reviewThe wartime experiences of Channel Islanders have been a popular topic in fiction recently, most notably with the quirky Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Mary Horlock’s much darker The Book of Lies. There are a few that don’t make the grade however, among them Margaret Leroy’s The Collaborator.

The premise is hardly original but there are plenty of opportunities for the story to be developed; these chances are not taken and the novel suffers because of that. Vivienne de la Mare lives on Guernsey with her daughters – Blanche is fourteen and has just left school, Millie is much younger, still at the age for bedtime stories – and her aged and increasingly infirm mother-in-law, Evelyn; her husband, Eugene, is away fighting in the war.


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