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Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Love Detective by Alexandra Potter

(I received this book from in return for an honest review)

Romantic Fiction set in India                                  My rating:  5 out of 5
Ever since Ruby, aged thirty-something, caught her (now ex) fiancĂ©  in flagrante with another woman life has been in a bit of a rut - staying in watching tv, curling up with her dog etc.  That is until her elderly next door neighbour points out that  "There's plenty of time to be sensible when you get to my age."  so she jumps on a plane to join her sister on holiday in Goa. 

After a seemingly death defying journey from the airport to their holiday destination, Ruby finds herself  in a wonderful peaceful hotel  away from the outside hectic world.  Yoga classes are held in the open air as the sun sets, flower petals adorn the bed and all is calm and beauty.  That is until Ruby's sister runs away.   Ruby is then swept away on a whirlwind of adventure that takes her from Goa, to Agra and the Taj Mahal, to the stunning scenery of Pushkar, to the wedding season in Udaipur and finally onto Jodhpur. 

"Look after your little sister" is a refrain Ruby has been brought up with, so she cannot let her parents down.   But what about Heathcliff back in London, and the tall, dark, handsome, but annoying, American she meets?    Ruby is definitely not looking for love, just her little sister - and during her incredible journey through India  provides the reader with many laugh out loud moments.   As Ruby says, "What a difference a week makes", from her old life which was safe and predictable including "a whole drawer full of clean underwear" to the chaos that is her current life, which brings with it the extraordinary  feeling of being free.  Her search opens her mind to new experiences as she discovers all that is magical about India.  

For the traveller, this book gives a great idea of what it is like to travel in India, from train journeys to tut tuts, from touring the Taj Mahal to sleeping in a tent.  How to enjoy the spices in Indian cooking, and what not to do if you have had your hands henna'ed.  The unbelievable colours, the friendly people and the scary traffic are all depicted in a bright, light amusing way.

Light romantic comedy is not a genre I usually read, but I really enjoyed this lively, humorous and upbeat book.   The characters in the book are wonderful, from Ruby's literary agent who must be obeyed, to Rocky a taxi driver, to the awful Cindy.  The plot had plenty of twists and turns to keep me interested  and the insights into India (from a tourists viewpoint) were fascinating - in fact so good that I certainly want to re-visit this country, in particular Pushkar.  I even learnt some urban slang!    

This is a book that rainy days are made for - a wonderful escape into warmer climes.   

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome by Alberto Angela

A stroll through ancient Rome                    My rating:   5 out of 5

Reading this book is like being with a tour guide who has taken you back in time, and is giving you a day's guided tour of 115 CE Rome, and what it is like to live there, bringing it all to life by describing the people and activities  you are passing as you wander around.

The day starts before dawn when you observe the slaves preparing the house for the owners, right through every aspect of the day, up to midnight.

Our chatty guide, who occasionally asks rhetorical questions, takes us from the home, onto the streets, into different living quarters, shops, the baths, the Colosseum (bit gory) etc. etc., giving us fascinating insights along the way - for example, some Romans wore wrist timepieces!  - and offering comparisons with current day Rome.  It is a work of imagination of what life was like then, based on historical fact, research and artefacts found.  Many times the author refers to a gravestone that has been found, after talking about a person you have observed on your tour.

Chapters are short - divided into short segments of the day, and there is a great list of Contents if you want to return to sections (there is no index).    There are some very helpful illustrations.

I thought this would be the sort of book that I would skip over some chapters,  but I didn't miss a page.  It is so well written that every page is fascinating.  No dry historical lectures here.    I have never been to Rome, but that was no hindrance to enjoying  this insight into the lives people led in those days.  If you are about to visit Rome, this book would be a fantastic pre-visit read, so you can really understand what you are seeing. 

There are also references to Pompeii and other Roman sites, so this book, though based in Rome, is really a guide to life at that time, not just in Rome. 

I shall definitely be tipping the Tour Guide! , and recommending this book to everyone who has any interest in the lives of the Ancient Romans.  

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The Silent Hours by Cesca Major

(Book received from, and review written for,

A moving tale of French WWII tragedy              My rating 5 out of 5

This moving book follows 5 main characters living in a small French village that is unoccupied by the Nazis.  The story starts when war in France is declared, and takes the reader up to near the end of the war - when a true event takes place. 

The story is told in short chapters from each of the main character's viewpoints.    This form of narration works well and does not disrupt the flow of the story at all.  The main characters are:
Adeline, who does not speak and is residing in a convent, who talks of the present (1952) and the past.
Isabelle, Adeline's adored teenage daughter
Paul, Adeline's son who goes off to fight in the war
Sebastien, the son of a Jewish banker
Tristan, a 9 year old boy whose family moves from Paris to the village to escape the war.

The narrative steadily builds a story of village life, including romance, prejudice, childish innocence, war and different perspectives.  The reader is gradually pulled into the characters' lives - it is like a puzzle being gradually filled in, with the reader becoming mesmerised as the picture become ever more complete.

This story is fiction, but based around a real event that took place on 10 June 1944.  The village, Oradour-sur-Glane, where the action takes place,  is a real place (now a permanent memorial and museum). I strongly recommend that you do not look up the event until you have finished the book.  All the characters are fictional, but I imagine their lives are typical of those that would have been taking place in this village at that time - the author is a historian.  Hopes and fears, loves and disappointments are drawn well - as the characters come to life and struggle in these times of hardship and restrictions.

For me the story from Tristan's 9 year old point of view was particularly strong - having the full facts withheld from him, he imagines scenarios with himself as the hero who brings an end to the war.  However his innocent imaginings and actions have far reaching outcomes in the real world. 

The book flowed well, and kept me gripped.  It gave me a very powerful image of what a village such as this would have been like at that time, with all the serious worries and fears of war, and the petty arguments etc that continue in any small community.   There is a useful "Historical Note" at the end, which clarifies how much of the book is fiction and how much based on real life events. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in French village life during WWII, or just wants a great engaging read.

It is suitable for all the family.  

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Slow start that takes off later                     My rating:  3 out of 5

Set, mostly, in the Gower Peninsula - this shows Wales at its best, in the winter, when the beaches are quiet and the tourists have gone home.   The beach scenes made me yearn to visit this area again.

However, the first half of the book I felt was predictable.  A terrible accident, a move to Wales to escape, and though moving and shocking, a little tedious UNTIL the last sentences in Part 1, when there is a sudden twist, and all the predictability turns out to have been a red herring. 

Then Part 2 gallops along, totally compelling, full of twists and excitement.  Although the violence depicted was too much for me, it was totally in keeping with the storyline.    I can see why, having got through the first half, this gripping psychological thriller is selling so well, but I shall be looking for something a little less upsetting for my next read. 

Nominated for the Linwood Barclay Award for Most Surprising Twist in 2016

Monday, 11 January 2016

The Anesthesia Game by Rea Nolan Martin

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Authors, Large and Small in return for an honest independent review.)

Fun and Exciting Fantasy                           My rating:  4 out of 5

Four main characters: Hannah, broke and wishing her ex husband would concentrate less on how much she spends, and more on what she is not spending.   Mitsy, Hannah's nightmare neurotic sister,   Sydney ill and fading fast and   Pandora, Mitsy's mystic advisor - who has problems of her own.  These four, very well drawn, individuals, plus a few others, take the reader through an often humorous and down to earth tale, interspersed with mystical fantasy of drama and excitement. 

The writing style is easy to read  "You have to remember how to say yes to life even when it pushes you off a twenty-story ledge into a pile of broken glass." is just one example of great prose.  The action moves along at a fast pace, interspersed with humour and fantasy. 

I found some of fantasy sections in the book a little too much "out of this world" for me; fantasy is not my favourite genre.  I quite accept that fans of fantasy will be astounded that I did not rate this book a 5.  I heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys fantasy, mixed in with fun, excitement and drama.  

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

An Invisible Client by Victor Methos

Out on 26 January 2016

(I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Gripping Courtroom Drama            My rating:  4 out of 5

Noah Byron, a successful personal injury lawyer,  prides himself on only taking cases where the benefit to his firm is a certainty.  The book opens with an riveting courtroom action about a company's decision whether to recall food or not, and then moves onto a pharmaceutical poisoning case.  In the midst of all this Noah meets Joel, who tests his professionalism to the limit.

There are only a few major characters, some likeable, some not so - all well drawn.  Noah provides the reader with some amusing viewpoints of how lawyers view matters, and interesting insights as to how evidence for the plaintiff is drawn up, and behind the scenes action.

The story moves at a fast pace, the plot is clearly drawn and I got very involved in the action.  Very enjoyable, and made even more interesting by the fact that the author is a practising criminal defense attorney in the USA - so, presumably, the legal content of the book is true to life. 

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Humans by Matt Haig

The Meaning of Life (not 42)                 My rating:  5 out of 5

An alien is sent to earth (Cambridge, England) to resolve a problem.  Before he does so however he needs to understand a bit about the humans - perhaps his choice of Cosmopolitan magazine was not the best place to start, but it did make for laugh out loud reading.  As matters progress, the alien discovers that there is more to humans than meets the eye, and shares some witty and enlightening thoughts on what it means to be human.

This is the first book by Matt Haig that I have read, and I look forward to reading more.  It made me laugh out loud, think about life and want to remember (and quote)  sentences from it, for example "The things you don't need to live - books, art, cinema, wine and so on - are the things you need to live."

A life affirming  read, a great story and a good laugh.