Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Greek Holiday

Just a little note to say that I will absent from my blog for a while.  We fly to Kos in the morning for a much needed break.
Kos is a new Greek destination for us, although we have visited neighbouring Rhodes - many years ago.
I'm hoping to read lots, drink a bit and eat even more!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan

The past couple of weeks have been so hectic for me, I've had a few health-related things to deal with and work is just hectic.

On Wednesday we fly to Kos for a week of relaxation and I'm so ready for it.  I think all this hectic rushing around has affected my reading and I've picked up and abandoned at least three books lately.  I was beginning to despair, I thought I'd lost my reading mojo completely.  So, browsing through the shelves of books to be read and out jumped Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan.  

The cover is beautiful and there are cakes in the title, surely this would mend me?    Oh yes!    Yes, it did!

Jenny Colgan has  delivered a feel-good, warm and entertaining story full of great characters and mouth watering cake descriptions.  There are recipes included throughout the story and I'm determined that I'm going to have a go at some of them.

The story is about Issy, an ordinary London girl who is made redundant.  Issy was brought up by her beloved Grandpa who was a master baker, she is warm and genuine and loves baking.   On the spur of the moment she decides that she is going to use her redundancy money to open her very own cupcake cafe.   The reader then accompanies Issy on her journey to become a businesswoman.

Jenny Colgan
Jenny Colgan is an expert in characterisation, the great guys really are fabulous, I just loved Caroline - the stick thin yummy mummy who has been dumped by her husband and can't bear the thought of having to live anywhere with less than three bathrooms.  Then there is Austin, probably the world's daftest Bank Manager - but oh, I did fall in love with him and his sticky out hair and pockets full of catapults!     The bad guys are nasty, very very nasty, the sort of villain that would get a boo every time they came on stage in Panto.

Thank you Jenny Colgan for getting my mojo back!    I'm hoping that Issy's story may be continued in another book some day, there is definitely scope for more!

A wonderfully fulfilling story, I loved it.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

What They Do In The Dark by Amanda Coe

Amanda Coe is a successful television script writer, she is co-writer of Shameless and the creator of As If.  

Both of these shows are gritty, down to earth, shocking and no-holds barred viewing and her debut novel; What They Do In The Dark is exactly that too.  

If you are shocked by stories of dysfunctional families, or offended by bad language, violence and abuse then this story is probably not for you.  If, like me, you appreciate fiction that really does mirror real life, then you will most likely be hooked by this extremely written, shocking novel.

Set in Doncaster in the 1970s, the story centres around three young girls, all very different, but all linked together.   Gemma lives a fairly average life, she's clean, has pocket money and goes abroad for her holidays.

Pauline, on the other hand, comes from an infamous family.  Totally dysfunctional where violence, abuse, dirt and hunger are the norm.  Pauline's mum is often away from home, her Nan is dependent on prescription drugs and Pauline is left to fend for herself.  She is dirty, she smells, she fights and swears, and nobody likes her.

Lallie is a child star, with a weekly TV programme, an overbearing theatre mother and adored by Gemma.

This novel took my breath away at times.  Amanda Coe has created characters that are flawed so badly by life, yet are not sentimental in any way.   The writing is stark and detached, narrated by various characters with a vividness that is really outstanding.

Amanda Coe
This is a story of neglect, of betrayal and of incredible sadness and culminates in a horrific and shocking act.  Every associated character can link into the fate of the these girls, adults who are indifferent, who are selfish, or just don't see how their actions can affect the children who are in their care.

I was exactly the same age as these girls in the era that it was set. I lived just 20 minutes away from Doncaster and we often shopped there as a family.  I recognised the settings, some of the people and the air of apathy that is a theme throughout this story.

This is fiction, but could be true, it is realistic, it is hard to digest, but it really is an excellent first novel.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Wink Murder by Ali Knight - Giveaway Winner Announced!

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Wink Murder by Ali Knight, and offered my copy as a freebie to followers who posted a comment on my review.  You can read my review here

I'm delighted to announce that the winner of the giveaway is LindyLouMac in Italy.

Congratulations LindyLou - please let me have your address, you can email me or send it via my Facebook or Twitter pages.

I really hope you enjoy the book and I'd love to hear your thoughts when you've read it.

Many thanks to everyone who entered, look out for some more freebies soon.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Working It Out by Nicola May

Working It Out is a self-published novel from author Nicola May.   It has a beautiful cover and looks extremely professional - the quality of the print and the paper is very good.

This is Ruby's story.  Ruby is 30, and has just been made redundant from her high flying marketing job.  She has the nice flat and the designer furniture, she's been living the good life and all of a sudden she is faced with unemployment.  

Ruby discovers a quote from Kahlil Gibran - the author of The Prophet, she realises how true it is and decides that she will no longer work long stressful hours in an unfulfilling job.
Work is love made visible.  And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
 Ruby formulates a plan, in order to find a job that she loves, she will take 12 temporary jobs over the next 12 months.  
The novel follows Ruby from job to job, meeting her work colleagues, her friends, family and neighbours.

This is a clever idea for a novel and enables Nicola May to introduce the reader to a wide and varied cast. Some of the characters are more developed than others - some have only minor parts.   Ruby takes on such a variety of jobs during her 12 months, but my favourite of her jobs was her first.  She was a nursing assistant in a retirement home for elderly celebrities.   It is during this job that the best characters were introduced, and where Ruby seemed to be very happy.

Working It Out is an easy read, it's fun and quirky and just a little bit different.  However, it is not without it's faults.

I liked Ruby as a character, she was genuine and kind hearted - spending time with her elderly neighbour and taking in an 'orphaned' dog.    Every now and then though her character seemed to change altogether and it was usually where men were concerned.

Ruby's kindness and goodness flew out of the window and she turned into what can only be called a slapper.  Every man she came across fancied her - she almost jumped every one of them.  It niggled me.

Whenever the story turned just a little romantic, the language became crude and just didn't fit with the characters.

On the whole though, it's a great idea for a novel and it's easy to read and puts a smile on your face - I'd just prefer Ruby to get her mind and her language out of the gutter sometimes.

Thanks to Nicola May for sending a copy to me to review.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

What I Did by Christopher Wakling

The blurb on the back of What I Did by Christopher Wakling intrigued me so much that I just had to pick this one from the Amazon Vine programme.

I've had my nose firmly stuck between the pages for the past couple of days - this really is a wonderfully clever book.

The central storyline of What I Did could happen to any family.   Imagine, you are out in the park with your six year old son.  Both of you are in a bad mood - it's early, you have work worries, you'd rather be in bed. Suddenly your son runs off, over the park, through the trees and makes his way towards a busy road.  You chase him, shouting for him to stop.  You see him run out between parked cars, you see the traffic, your heart thuds.  He's lucky, he stops, he's unhurt.  You grab him - you smack him.  You are so relieved that he is OK, but so damn angry too.

And so, that is the beginning of the story.  

Narrated by six year old Billy, and seen purely through his eyes, with his kind of mixed up feelings about his angry Dad and his pure innocence and honestly, that only cause the family more and more heartache.

Billy is a wonderfully drawn character, bright as a button, intelligent, obsessed with David Attenborough and wild animals and the attention span of an ant.  

At first his voice is a little difficult to relate to, he often muddles his words and at times he goes totally off-track, into random observations and information relaying.  This only adds to his character, and makes him more lifelike.  Six year old boys are like that, this is real life.

Somebody saw Jim (Billy's Dad) smack him, she confronted him and Jim told her where to get off - that was his second mistake, after the mistake of smacking Billy.   Soon the family are visited by Social Workers and so begins a round of examinations, case conferences, meetings and accusations.

Christopher Wakling
Throughout all of this, Billy's voice is loud.  He answers the questions in his honest way - but it is the adults who get things wrong, they interpret his answers to mean different things, and Billy, in his innocence does not realise this.

Jim loves Billy, there is no doubt of that.  Jim is also stubborn, short tempered and at times very angry. He swears, works too hard and drinks beer.  He will not co-operate with the agencies involved, he makes things worse - for himself and for Billy.

This is a clever, entertaining, sad, funny and heart warming story.  It is about real life, about mistakes that are made and about the innocence of childhood.  I loved every page!

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Obscure Logic of the Heart by Priya Basil is my third choice from the Transworld Book Challenge project.     The publishers have been marketing this story as 'Romeo and Juliet for the 21st century', so it wouldn't be unfair to expect a love story with some tragedy.

I wasn't disappointed, but although the story of Anil and Lina's relationship is the main theme to the novel, there is so much more than this.  It is a complex novel, comprising of many different themes, from the illicit love affair between a Muslim and a Sikh, to the illegal arms trade in Kenya.

Anil and Lina are two young people who meet at university and gradually fall in love.  Their religions are not the only thing that is different about them; Anil comes from a wealthy background and has never really had to work for anything.  Lina, on the other hand comes from a working class family in Birmingham, her parents are devout Muslims and they are a tight, loving family.

I'm part of the Transworld Reading Challenge
Basil is an expert at crafting realistic characters, not just the two main leads but the accompanying characters are just as well rounded, it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into who Anil and Lina would allow into their world, who they would trust and why.

I really enjoyed this novel, I enjoyed the love story and the mysterious back story that ran alongside it - Basil uses some old 1960s correspondence, spaced between chapters every now and then - this adds a touch of intrigue to the story.

A novel that is very relevant to the world today, well written, with a great plot and interesting characters.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Postcards From Nam by Uyen Nicole Duong

I requested Postcards From Nam by Uyen Nicole Duong through the Amazon Vine programme a couple of weeks ago.

Synopsis (from Amazon)  Mimi is a successful young Vietnamese immigrant practicing law in Washington, D.C. when the postcards begin to arrive. Postmarked from Thailand, each hand-drawn card is beautifully rendered and signed simply “Nam.” Mimi doesn’t recognize the name, but Nam obviously knows her well, spurring her to launch what will become a decade-long quest to find him. As her search progresses, long-repressed memories begin to bubble to the surface: her childhood in 1970s Vietnam in a small alley in pre-Communist Saigon. Back then, Nam was her best friend, a gifted artist who dreamed of someday sending his work around the globe. But when the children were separated by war, their lives diverged onto different paths: one to freedom and opportunity, the other to tragedy and pain. Now Mimi must uncover Nam’s story from the ensuing years, including his harrowing escape by boat from his ravaged homeland. Throughout her search, she clings to the hope that, despite the distance between them, the friends can share solace in the artwork that has reunited them

I chose this book from the Amazon Vine newsletter, the premise of the story really appealed to me, and I've not read many novels set around Vietnam before - so was interested to learn a little more.  This is a novella really at just 100 pages long, but every one of the pages contain words that really touch the heart.

Mimi is a succesful lawyer based in America, she is a Vietnamese immigrant who has americanised both her name and her lifestyle.   Mimi's family were lucky enough to be able to leave their home in South Vietnam just before the North took over.   Other family members and friends were not so lucky though, and Mimi has distanced herself from the memories of her past.   Then, out of the blue, postcards begin to arrive.  Beautifully, hand drawn postcards that are personal to Mimi, and to her past.  Who is sending them, and why?  What do they mean?
After speaking with her family, it becomes clear to Mimi that these cards are being sent by Nam.  Nam was a childhood neighbour back in Vietnam and Mimi has heard nothing from him for years.   Determined to find out more about the cards and about Nam, Mimi tracks down refugees and learns through them, of Nam's ordeals over the past years.  He has suffered dreadfully, yet still he remembers her.
There are some haunting passages in this short novel, the terrors suffered by Nam over the years are harsh, yet his love for Mimi never dies and his art work iives on.
Photo from The San Jose Library SystemThis is a beautifully crafted story.

Uyen Nicole Duong was born in 1959 in Hoi An and grew up in Saigon.  Her family fled Vietnam on April 30 1975.  She is a professor at the University of Denver and has also written a novel called Daughters of the River Huong.