Archive > September 2011

The Burning Wire

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The Burning Wire,  Jeffery Deaver, book reviewYou can’t see it, you can’t smell it, and you can’t taste it, hear it or touch it but it’s all around us and it has the potential to be deadly. In the right (or rather wrong) hands, it can kill and in the hands of a killer with a grudge it might just be the ultimate weapon of destruction – how can you guard against an attack using something that’s all around us? It doesn’t need to be smuggled through security or bought from a dodgy rogue nation or flown into airspace and spread through strange carrier systems. Electricity is the killer already in our midst and it’s the technique chosen by the deadly killer or killers at the heart of Jeffrey Deaver’s latest novel The Burning Wire. The setting is New York City, the time is now and the man with the job of preventing a quite literal melt-down in the city is Deaver’s most successful forensic super sleuth, the wheelchair bound Lincoln Rhyme.


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The Lady of the Rivers

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The Lady of the Rivers Philippa Gregory, book reviewThe Lady of the Rivers is the third novel in Philippa Gregory’s Cousins at War trilogy, covering the stories of three of the women involved in the Wars of the Roses. The first novel, The White Queen, was about Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s Queen Consort; the second, The Red Queen, covered Margaret Beaufort, mother of the first Tudor king, Henry VII. Now in The Lady of the Rivers we go back in time to the story of Elizabeth’s mother Jacquetta, firstly Duchess of Bedford, and then following the death of her husband, she marries Richard Woodville who becomes the first Earl Rivers.

The Wars of the Roses is a fascinating and complex time in English history. The houses of Lancaster and York fought each other for the throne, which changed between them a few times.


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The Murder Room

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The Murder Room: In Which Three of the Greatest Detectives Use Forensic Science to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases,  Michael Capuzzo, book reviewTwenty years ago, three uniquely talented men decided that there was far too much unsolved crime in the world, and set out to use their talents to do something about it. Put like that, this sounds like a story about a batman-style avenger of the wronged, but the true tale of The Murder Room is something altogether more remarkable. These three men – a former FBI agent, a forensic artist and a criminal profiler – are the founder members of the Vidocq Society, a pro bono crime-fighting society based in Philadelphia, named in honour of Eugene Vidocq, the head of the first known private detective agency. The Society is little publicised but has done a huge amount of valuable work over the years.


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The Burning Soul

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The Burning Soul, John Connolly, book reviewThe Burning Soul is the tenth full-length novel from John Connolly to feature Charlie Parker as the central character. The books could best be characterised as thrillers with supernatural overtones. Towards the beginning of the series (which started with Every Dead Thing), the novels were characterised by extreme and graphic violence, but, as the series has evolved, Connolly has more and more relied on fine descriptive prose to build tension and a sense of menace which only occasionally explodes.


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Plan B

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Plan B by Emily Barr, book reviewI have read most of Emily Barr’s novels and each one is fresh and enjoyable and you think they can’t get any better. However, having just read Plan B, they do get better and I was totally absorbed in this story from the moment I picked the book up! Emily Barr is such a good storyteller and she hooks you from the very start so that you don’t want to stop reading. I found myself snatching odd moments in the day to pick this book up, and now that I’ve finished it I’m almost disappointed as I didn’t want to stop reading.

The main character in the book is Emma and over half of the story is told from her point of view and is written in the first person.


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The Damnation of John Donellan

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The Damnation of John Donellan: A Mysterious Case of Death & Scandal in Georgian EnglandWarwickshire, August 1780.

Deep in the countryside near Rugby stands the Tudor manor house of Lawford Hall, occupied this summer by Sir Theodosius Boughton, his mother Anna Maria, his sister Theodosia, brother-in-law John Donellan, the Donellans’ two young children, and a handful of servants. It is early in the morning of 30th August and something is about to happen that will bring notoriety and scandal to the Boughton household.

Sir Theodosius, aged 20 and suffering from venereal disease he contracted at Eton some five years earlier, has just woken and is visited in his bedchamber by his mother. Anna Maria was keen for her son to take the medicine made up for him by the local apothecary Mr Powell in the hope that it might cure him; he, on the other hand, seems reluctant to take it as a dose he received from the same man the previous week made him ill.


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Mysterious Skeins

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The Storyteller of Marrakesh, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, book reviewStories of disappearance told through different points of view can be found in films like Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Kurosawa’s Rashomon. What this different viewpoint technique does is to give us a take on human nature and to tell us that very often what we believe is not always correct. Roy-Bhattacharya sets his novel in the exotic Jemaa el Fna square of Marrakesh. A place that in the modern world truly approximates to a melting pot from A Thousand And One Nights. At the centre of this collection of jugglers, musicians and magicians is the storyteller Hassan who begins to tell his captivated audience the story of a disappearance, that of a foreign couple, a woman like a gazelle and man with skin ‘the colour of sand’ who vanished many years ago. Hassan’s brother Mustafa has been implicated in their disappearance, but without any real proof.


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Sexually, I’m more of a Switzerland

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Sexually, I'm More of a Switzerland: Personal Ads from the London Review of Books, David Rose, book review“Animal in Bed. Probably a Gnu”

Sexually, I’m more of a Switzerland is a collection of personal ads placed in the London Review of Books which have been gathered together by David Rose, the editor of the journal’s lonely hearts column for many years. The collection contains examples that are typically laugh-out-loud hilarious, often sad, sometimes so ambiguous as to represent a waste of the advertisers money and frequently deeply troubling. Sexually, I’m more of a Switzerland opens a window on the psyche of a sub-group of book-loving, self-deprecating intellectual snobs who clearly make up the advertising readership of the London Review of Books.


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Virtual Reality

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Sikandar: 10 Players, 68 Days  by  Binayak Banerjee , book reviewReality shows are all the rage on television and even India is no immune. Sikandar by poet and novelist Binayak Banerjee takes an invented reality show called Sikandar as an excuse to bring ten very diverse people together. These include Bengal’s leading actor, a crooked industrialist, a revolutionary teacher, a hermit, a prostitute and several others. They are all on the show in an attempt to win the prize for being the most Bengali of Bengalis – and though two of the contestants are not Bengali, we are told that they are nonetheless eligible, since being a Bengali is a state of mind.

In Big Brother style these people are locked up in a house that takes its name from the Mahabharata, Jotugriha, the house of lac in which the Pandava brothers lived with their mother, a house that burnt like a torch when their enemies set fire to it.


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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 Yellow Wallpaper

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The Yellow Wallpaper (Virago modern classics), Charlotte Perkins Gilman, book reviewHave you ever noticed that some of the shortest books are also the saddest? It’s almost as if we need multiple words to express joy and barely a few to plunge the depths of human misery. Such is the case in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s tiny book The Yellow Wallpaper which was published in 1892. It’s also hard to imagine that in modern times anyone would be able to get a story of just 28 pages published, unless it were one of the shorter contributions to a book of short stories. The Yellow Wallpaper despite its brevity is hailed as a ‘Literary Masterpiece’ – at least that’s what it says on the cover of my Virago Modern Classics edition in its 2002 reprint.

The Yellow Wallpaper took me a very short time to read – half a bath to be precise. The other half polished off the ‘Afterword’, an essay about the book which is longer than the tale itself.


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The Last Hundred Days

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The Last Hundred Days (Paperback), Patrick McGuinness, book reviewAt the end of 1989, the brutal Stalinist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania came to an end. Patrick McGuinness was there, and in The Last Hundred Days has written a novel set during this time, following a young Englishman as he arrives in Bucharest to take a job for which he didn’t bother to attend the interview.

Our unnamed narrator finds himself in a world of corruption, paranoia and fear. Romania is a totalitarian Communist state, and no one knows who to trust. Punishments for speaking out or going against the regime and its leader are severe, food is short and hospital conditions are appalling.


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