Archive > May 2012

Before I Met You

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Before I Met You, Lisa Jewell, book reviewI love Lisa Jewell’s style of writing and always look forward to her new books with relish. I’ve just read her latest book, Before I Met You, and I have enjoyed it just as much as all her others. What I particularly liked though was the fact that it was also very different from her other books and was a really refreshing read.

Before I Met You tells the story of two women – Arlette and Betty – who belong to different generations. Arlette was Betty’s step grandmother who she was devoted to and cared for until the day she died. After Arlette’s death though, Betty and her family are surprised, when the will is read, to learn of an unknown beneficiary. With very little to go on, Betty moves from her home in Guernsey to Soho to try and solve the mystery.


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Ninepins

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Ninepins (Paperback), Rosy Thornton, book reviewRosy Thornton’s latest novel, Ninepins, is a wonderfully absorbing tale set in the Cambridgeshire Fens. It is a story about relationships, particularly those between mothers and their teenage daughters and all of the tensions that can often exist between them.

Laura is a single mother who lives with her daughter Beth. They’ve always had a close and open relationship but now that Beth has started secondary school and formed new friendships, this relationship starts to feel a bit fragile. Laura does not approve of the new friends, and Beth doesn’t want to do things with her mum any more. Laura feels that she is losing her daughter little by little.


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HHhH

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HHhH (Harvill Secker) by Laurent Binet, Translated by Sam Taylor, book reviewHHhH is Laurent Binet’s first novel and won two major literary prizes in France. It tells the story of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague during the second world war, the events leading up to it and some of its aftermath. It is, therefore, a work of historical fiction, telling a story which I knew in outline, but in a way which made it seem fresh. Heydrich was the number two to Himmler in the Nazi hierarchy, a ruthless persecutor of the Jews and an effective administrator with a high level of ideological commitment. He was known as “The Hangman of Prague” and “The Blond Beast” and was the highest ranking Nazi to be killed until near the end of the Second World War. The title of the book comes from a German phrase of the time – Himmlers Hirn heist Heydrich (Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich) – highlighting Heydrich’s importance to the Germans.


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It May Be a Murder

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The Reluctant Detective (Paperback) by  Kiran Manral, book reviewKay Mehra, or KM, who coincidentally happens to have the same initials as the author, is a lady in her thirties with a weight problem, a five year old brat and a husband who is affectionate but not romantic. She’s given up working to bring up the brat and shows no signs of wanting to go back to professional life – she’s quite comfortable jogging early in the morning with a tennis bracelet around her wrist and a gold chain with a pendant round her neck. Life is a mix of Prada and Jimmy Choos and other designer wear belonging to her thinner days which fail; to come to the rescue on crucial occasions like Bollywood parties.

Into the middle of her placid almost designer life comes a corpse – well two corpses, though the second one fades out after a while – and because the corpse was murdered on the jogging streets outside the complex where Kay lives and lived in the complex as well, Kay finds herself involved starting with a visit from the police.


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A Mountain of Crumbs

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A Mountain of Crumbs – Growing up Behind the Iron Curtain, Elena Gorokhova, book reviewThe biography department of any bookstore can be a tricky place to look for a good read. There are the celebrity biographies that sell well, especially around Christmas time or released to coincide with the celeb’s latest scandal or relationship, which are usually ghost written and air-brushed to tell the fans what they want to know. There are the ‘tragedy’ or ‘event’ biographies where someone’s story becomes important or interesting because of something that happened to them – surviving the Titanic, escaping from a brutal regime – or because they just happened to be in the right place at the right time when something really significant was happening around them. The category that I find can throw up some of the best and some of the worst biographies is the ‘personal memoir’.


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The Lost Wife

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The Lost Wife, Alyson Richman, book reviewThe horrors of the Holocaust and the lives of those who lived through it, and indeed their descendants, have been well documented in fiction so it’s a particular pleasure to find a writer that has managed to present a familiar subject from a different perspective. The Lost Wife is a story about first love and how one never forgets it; that the two main characters are separated as a result of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia is important but secondary to the main theme, in my opinion.

The story opens with the meeting of an elderly Jewish man and an elderly Jewish woman who have not seen each other for decades, each believing the other is dead.


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Not Very Bollywood At All

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Not Very Bollywood At All - Richard Beeching, book reviewOne of the great things about having a well-stocked Kindle is that you don’t need to think too much about what books to take away with you on holiday. You can finish a book and just pick whatever takes your fancy next instead of having to guess in advance just what you might feel like reading on a plane, on a beach or in your hotel. For my recent trip to Istanbul I had actually downloaded a couple of novels set in the city but then got the urge for something completely different – in this case a very funny account of one man’s introduction to India as a result of following the England cricket team on the 2001 test series. The book is Not Very Bollywood At All by Richard Beeching.


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Pure

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Pure -Timothy Mo, book reviewIt is over 10 years since Timothy Mo’s last novel, but Pure has been worth the wait. Mo has written an effervescent novel overflowing with verbal ticks and tricks, addressing some serious topics in a most unusual way. The book is set in southern Thailand, where a small but vigourous Islamic insurgency, vaguely linked with global backers, dreams of a South Asian caliphate and embarks on a campaign of terrorism. In an effort to infiltrate one of the Islamic cells, the police recruit a most unlikely double agent, Snooky – a Thai ladyboy of Islamic origin working as a film critic in the city. Against all expectations, Snooky proves to be a very effective terrorist and a somewhat less effective informant for the authorities.


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That Woman

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That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor - Anne Sebba, book reviewThat Woman by Anne Sebba is a biography of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, wife of the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, and blamed for his decision to abdicate in 1936. Hated by the royal family, particularly Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and mocked by society, history has painted her as a manipulative and cunning woman, allegedly using tricks learnt in Chinese brothels to exert her hold on the King.

Born Bessiewallis Warfield in Baltimore in the late nineteenth century, she was on her second marriage by the time she met the then Prince of Wales. Her first marriage was as a naval wife and ended in divorce, she spent time in China before moving to England and marrying Ernest Simpson, who offered her stability.


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Fascinating Chennai

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Tamarind City: Where Modern India Began - Bishwanath Ghosh, book reviewA city is a lot like a woman. You may fall for it because of a certain physical attribute — the eyes, the smile, the dimple…That is how Bishwanath Ghosh looks at Chennai in his Tamarind City. It’s an odd combination, a Bengali who grew up in Kanpur moving to Chennai because at some point in time his parents had lived in the city and had fond memories of it. However from that arbitrary decision to move to Chennai from Delhi, came one of the first histories of Chennai – not so much a history in the timeline sense, though Ghosh does talk about how the British set foot in Madras and bought land in Masulipatam – but a history that shifts from physical attributes to spiritual to iconic in an attempt to capture the many realities of Chennai.


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Gone

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Gone by Michael Grant, book reviewGone by Michael Grant is the first novel in a series which, like many book series, is named after its first novel. It is a young adult novel, something I wasn’t actually aware of before I read it – although I do read quite a bit of young adult fiction.

One day, in a Californian town called Perdido Beach, everyone aged fifteen and over disappears. There is no warning – they just vanish into thin air. Cars crash, homes are left empty, TV and phones stop working. And the only ones left are those under fourteen. Sam Temple and his friends Quinn and Astrid try to figure out what is happening as they go in search of Astrid’s autistic brother Little Pete.


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Waiting for Sunrise

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Waiting for Sunrise, William Boyd, book reviewWaiting for Sunrise by William Boyd is a literary thriller, starting in pre-first World War Vienna and finishing in wartime London. In between it touches down in the battlefields of France and a more peaceful Geneva. The main protagonist is Lysander Rief, a young English actor beginning to make a name for himself on the stage, following in the footsteps of his more famous father. As the novel commences, Lysander has travelled to Geneva seeking psychotherapy for a sexual problem from one of Vienna’s leading psychotherapists. Lysander remains at the centre of events throughout the novel, becoming a wartime undercover agent on a mission to identify a traitor who is leaking important logistical information to the Germans.


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