Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Book Review: Restitution by Eliza Graham

Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Pan Macmillan (2009)
Pages: 391 (Paperback edition)
ISBN-10: 0230741886
ISBN-13: 978-0230741881

Synopsis: (From Eliza Graham's blog)

February 1945. Europe is in ruins and the Red Army is searing its way across Germany's eastern marches, revenging itself upon a petrified population. The war is over, but for some the fight for survival is only just beginning. Alix, the aristocratic daughter of a German resistance fighter, is desperate to flee before the Reds come. But when a ferocious snowstorm descends she is left alone and terrified.

First Line:

"Even now I don't like leaving the house on foggy days, though soldiers are unlikely to jump on me in Richmond."

These are the thoughts of Alix, an elderly lady who is nervously awaiting the arrival of her son who she hasn't seen since his adoption as a baby. During the visit, the inevitable question of who his father was sparks memories for Alix and we are then taken back to 1945 in Pomerania and the Red Army is advancing.............

This passage relates to Alix trapped in her house during the snowstorm (page 45):

The shutters rattled. The snow was blowing itself into a storm. Good. It would cover her footprints and slow down the Red Army. On the other hand, it might bring others here seeking shelter. She shouldn't be in this warm kitchen with its blue and white Dutch tiles above the stove, and the pots and pans hanging from the ceiling and reflecting the light of the gas lamp. She'd been a fool to come back, she should have obeyed Mami and kept on going west, no matter what. She'd promised and promises mattered, Papi had always told her that. Then, about a year ago, he'd shaken his head and said that therein lay the officer's dilemma. If you'd promised a monster that you'd serve him it was still a promise.

My Thoughts:

This was one of the most absorbing and thought-provoking books that I've read for a long time. Eliza Graham's simple and easy writing style kept me hooked throughout all the turbulant lives of all the characters - from South Tyrol in 1919 to London, England in 2002.

I felt emotionally drained at the end of it, having been every step of the way with Alix (a Baron's daughter) while her life and everything she knew and loved crumbled around her.

It was a love story, an heroic story, a sad story, also a story of hope and resilience.

I kept thinking how lucky we were (in England) that we didn't go through such a traumatic time and wondering how I would cope if I had to leave everything behind and start again. Truly a frightening thought! I marvelled at peoples ability to go on living and re-building their shattered lives in the face of such cruelty, but also some kindness still shone through.

The only minor negative that I would mention is of how the characters were introduced and how I was taken back and forth in time, I was quite confused by so many people, so many places and eras that it took me quite a while to really get into the book. But when it all 'clicked' I was hooked.

I would recommend it to anyone looking for a storyline that will draw you in and leave you breathless at the end.

Restitution is Eliza Graham's second novel - her debut novel Playing with the Moon was released in 2007 - my review here.

Special Thanks to Eliza Graham.

Comments and discussion welcome.

Also check out Juxtabooks review here

Friday, 24 April 2009

Book Review: Fallen Idols by Neil White

Genre: Crime Fiction
Published by: AVON, a division of HarperCollins (2007)
Pages: 500
ISBN-10: 1847560075
ISBN-13: 978-1847560070

A Premiership footballer is murdered on a busy London street, and a country is gripped by terror. Who lies behind this apparently motiveless killing - and who's next?
Crime-beat reporter Jack Garrett is convinced that this is no celebrity stalker. Aided by DC Laura McGanity, desperately trying to juggle police life with motherhood, the trail leads them to Turners Fold, Lancashire - Jack's home town.
What's the connection between the recent assassination and the murder of a young girl there ten years before? Could it be that people are not all they seem - and will do anything for their fifteen minutes of fame?

First Line:
"Sunny afternoons in London shouldn't happen this way."

This was Neil White's debut novel and it is the best crime fiction I've read this year.

From the first page to the last I was swept along on a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns, with the odd red herring here and there for good measure. We were introduced to freelance journalist Jack Garrett who I liked straight away, and his 'girlfriend' DC Laura McGanity, who I felt wasn't very developed as a character throughout the novel, maybe in subsequent stories we learn more about her.

This is an excerpt from near the beginning when the murderer is getting ready to shoot the footballer -

"She closed her eyes and prayed as she listened to the rifle being assembled, the soft clicks joined by Ben's deep breaths and the chatter and movement of Old Compton Street, the soundtrack to a glorious afternoon in Soho".

It really was a book that I just couldn't put down, every few pages was a cliffhanger, and just when I thought Neil White was taking the story one way he turns and takes it in a completely different direction.

He has been compared to crime writers such as Mark Billingham which is high praise indeed. If you're looking for someone new I would definitely recommend him, I don't think you will be disappointed.

Neil White's other novels :
Lost Souls (2008)
Last Rites (2009)

I'm looking forward to hearing him talk when he appears at our local Library next month.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Book Review: The Unicorn Road by Martin Davies

Genre: Historical Fiction
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton (2009)
Pages: 324

On the coast of Southern Spain, an English father waits for his son. It is many years since Benedict, then still a child, set out with the famous scholar Antioch on a mission to find and collect the mysterious beasts of the East. In all those years there has been no word, and the expedition is assumed lost. But the boy's father is not the only person asking questions on the harbourside that summer, and as he learns more about his son's companions, he comes to realise that the fate of the expedition has implications for people far richer and more powerful than himself.

My Thoughts:
After reading Martin Davies' debut novel The Conjuror's Bird I was looking forward to reading The Unicorn Road, and I was certainly not disappointed.

First Line:
To lose a small boy in a world so wide is an easy thing.

hese are the words of the father as he waits for Benedict. Every trader he meets he asks for news of his son.

Throughout the novel we return to the father who is visited by various people who are also looking for his son but for their own selfish reasons. I felt so much sympathy for him all the way through and I really longed for him to be reunited with Benedict and to be proud of him. This is my favourite passage from the book as his visitor asks a question:

'Tell me, merchant,' he said. 'In all these years, you say you've had no word. Nothing to give you hope. You ask me to believe that. But why else would you remain here, waiting?'
I felt sorry for him then. Sorry, because for all the cleverness in that sharp face of his, there was something absent, something lost. Somewhere in his forty years he had forgotten how it feels to love.
'I wait here,' I told him, 'because this is all I can do.'

The first part of the story concerns the journey of Benedict and Antioch to the city of Lin'an, also travelling with them is a young woman named Ming Yueh who is meeting her betrothed, together with an Interpreter and a cruel General who, we gradually learn, each have their own reasons for travelling.

I loved Martin Davies' descriptive writing style - this is an excerpt as the travellers are nearing their destination:

Lin'an, the lake city, city of poets, girdled by pleasure gardens, bejewelled with palaces, pitted with brothels; part fantasy, part mystery, part dense, steaming slum. A city that had outgrown itself, so tightly squeezed between the lake and the mountains that beyond the public squares and avenues its streets narrowed to fetid alleyways. There, dwellings jostled for space so fiercely that they leaned upon their neighbours or climbed over them, until they stood three or four storeys high, cutting all light from the passages below.
Fires were the scourge of the city, taking hold in seconds, blazing for days. But in their wake, the houses grew up thicker and faster and the city began to sweat in the heat once more.

It is when they meet the Emperor in Lin'an that we find out everyone's secrets, where men do deals and not everything is all that it seems.

The novel is set in medieval times but we never know the exact year. I was fascinated in the womens secret script, that no man could decipher, that was their own way of communicating between and within the towns. Indeed, the footnote at the end of the book mentions that the last woman to have learned this recently died so this ancient skill is now lost forever.

I just wanted to mention one small observation - Geography was never my strongest subject at school, so I really would have liked a map to plot all the different routes along the way, something similar to one in The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova which I referred to often while reading that book.

I felt that the character of Ming Yueh was most interesting, how her life changes so much throughout the book, and how she copes with everything with dignity and strength and how her strong will helps her survive.

Long after I'd finished the book the characters stayed with me, Martin Davies has written such compelling and fascinating personalities that I felt as if I knew them.

This is a wonderful story of love, hate, greed, kindness, cruelty, courage, religious bigotry, friendship, loss and power that I was completely absorbed in and couldn't put down.

I eagerly anticipate his next novel.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Book Review: Hollywood Undercover by Ian Halperin

Genre: Non-Fiction
Published by: Mainstream Publishing (2007)
Pages: 221

My Synopsis:
Ian Halperin is commisioned to film a documentary by Canadian TV about aspiring Canadian actors trying to make it in Hollywood. But while interviewing many luckless actors he realises how cliched it all is, so he decides to do something different - he will go undercover as a gay actor called 'His Highness Halperin, the King of the Jews', and try to make it into the movies himself. Some of his adventures include a poker game with the 'Queers of the Round Table', a short affair with the ill-fated Anna Nicole Smith, hearing sordid secrets of the stars, a course at the Scientology Church where they attempt to turn gays straight, and many more.

My Thoughts:
I'm not really sure why I picked up this library book as it is definitely not my usual genre, but I thought I'd try something different.

Ian Halperin comes across as a likeable enough person though a little egocentric. I thought there were too many coincidencs, for instance, he met so many Hollywood stars who wanted to tell him all their secrets. This is a typical passage from the book where he's at a party and meets the 50's starlet Debbie Reynolds who starred in Singin' in the Rain -

'Every man I ever dated in Hollywood turned out to be gay', she revealed. She had actually famously been married to Eddie Fisher - father of her daughter Carrie, aka Princess Leia - whom she stole away from her old friend Elizabeth Taylor, causing one of Hollywood's all-time greatest scandals. I didn't have the guts to ask her if that applied to Fisher as well.

Also, all the people he met who were working in Hollywood were only too happy to start telling him secrets about this or about that actor (no names were mentioned in the book, unless they were deceased), who was gay, took drugs, had an affair with them, etc etc. Even one elderly woman walked up to him one day and told him all about her affair with Charlie Chaplin. I felt it was maybe a bit too exaggerated.

Maybe I'm doubting Ian Halperin too much, I don't know, it was just the way I felt. Another story that I found hard to swallow was the story from when he lived in London in the 1980's, he had been busking and was sitting on a bench when an elderly lady came by and started talking to him. It turned out that she was Ava Gardner, and he was invited to her apartment where she proceeded to tell him stories about Frank Sinatra. Again, it just seemed too unbelievable.

Here's another couple of excerpts regarding George Clooney -

"The one celeb I seemed to keep bumping into, no matter where I went, was Clooney, who appeared to be omnipresent. I had first encountered George outside the Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard back in 1998. He looked fit, was wearing Converse running shoes and was with two gorgous model-types. He was in a great mood.
'George, I like your Chuck Taylors,' I said. 'I guess it gets the women.'
'Probably does,' he responded. 'I thought it was my hair, but you have made me re-think.'

The next time I bumped into him I was back in Montreal and he was directing and shooting Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. I saw him several times that summer - at a health club, at a bar, at a coffee shop and walking downtown. Everywhere I went George seemed to be there. I started to wonder if we were stalking each other."

But, having said all this, I did enjoy the book, it was well-written, fast flowing and kept my interest throughout, it was never boring. It is a book for people who enjoy magazines like Heat with lots of gossip. There was so much name-dropping involved!

There were some colour photos in the middle of the book corroborating some of his stories and there were also links on You Tube as well.


Ian Halperin has written several other 'celeb' books including -

Love and Death: A New and Explosive Investigation into the Murder of Kurt Cobain

Bad and Beautiful: Inside the Dazzling and Deadly World of Supermodels

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Book Review: Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham

Genre: Fiction
Published by: Macmillan New Writing (2007)
Pages: 276

Shattered by a recent bereavement, Minna and husband Tom retreat to an isolated village on the Dorset coast, hoping to find the solitude that will allow them to mourn and rebuild their foundering marriage. Walking on the beach one day, they unearth a human skeleton. It is a discovery which will plunge Minna into a mystery which will consume her for months.
The remains are soon identified as those of Private Lew Campbell, a black American GI who, it seems, drowned during a wartime exercise in the area 50 years before. Growing increasingly preoccupied with the dead soldier’s fate, Minna befriends a melancholy elderly woman, Felix, who lived in the village during the war. As Minna coaxes Felix’s story from her, it becomes clear that the old woman knows more about the dead GI than she initially let on.

First Line: " Our second wedding anniversary. I'm about to tell Tom our marriage is over when he spots something in the sand."

The story is narrated by Minna, and I really liked her character. She was suffering so much and didn't know how to make things better as she had withdrawn into herself a great deal. I felt that this is where her friendship with Felix helps her so much to come to terms with her loss, as she realises that she's not the only one to lose someone she loved. In a way, Minna becomes quite obsessed with Felix's story and finding out exactly what happened to Lew.
Their friendship is a healing process for both of them.

This is an excerpt from early in the story when Felix comes back to the village, after the discovery of Lew's body in 2006, and wanders round the utility room in her old home that she was evacuated from in 1943 when she was 14.

Her fingers touch paper jammed up against the wall in the far corner. She pulls out a small yellowed sheet. She blows on it and the dust disperses to expose a cormorant, poised to dive, head slightly tilted, eyes intent on its prey. Seeing the bird is like receiving an electric shock; she remembers Lew drawing it as though it was yesterday.
Felix slides the drawing back onto the shelf. It belongs in Rosebank House, with the girl she once was. Away from the valley, it would disintegrate. After all, she did.

The writing throughout the book was pacey, it never drags, it was never boring. Eliza Graham kept me interested and I really wanted to know more of what happened in Felix's life in the village in 1943 and after she left. I wanted her to find happiness.
I loved the way the story easily went back and forth in time.

This is another excerpt with Felix, Lew and Felix's friend David talking on the beach

'Just look at that moon' Lew pointed up through the cave entrance at the big yellow circle. 'You could just reach out and squeeze it like a lemon.' He began to sing in a low voice. 'Do you want the moon to play with, the stars to run away with?'

This is such an engaging and simple story, delighfully told, of guilt and loss and how it affects lives. It will probably never win any awards but I do hope it will win plenty of readers. This is Eliza Graham's debut novel.

Why Did I Pick This Book: I was instantly attracted to the book title and I loved the picture on the cover. I just had a good feeling from those that I would enjoy the book and I'm pleased that my instincts were right.

Any Negatives?: There were a couple of coincidences near the end of the story that I did find hard to believe, but I don't want to spoil any of the story for anyone so I won't say what they were!

Would I Recommend It?: Yes, definitely.

Monday, 6 April 2009

The 20 Best Selling Hardback Non-Fiction Books of 2008 in UK*

As promised, I'm listing more of the best selling books of last year.

  1. Guiness World Records (Guiness)
  2. At My Mother's Knee by Paul O'Grady (Bantam Press)
  3. Dear Fatty by Dawn French (Century)
  4. Jamie's Ministry of Food by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph)
  5. Delia's How to Cheat at Cooking by Delia Smith (Ebury)
  6. That's Another Story by Julia Walters (Weidenfeld)
  7. Parky: My Autobiography by Michael Parkinson (Hodder)
  8. For Crying Out Loud by Jeremy Clarkson (Michael Joseph)
  9. The Big Book of Top Gear by Richard Porter (BBC (RH))
  10. Nigella Christmas by Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus)
  11. Look Who It Is! by Alan Carr (HarperCollins)
  12. Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph)
  13. Jordan: Pushed to the Limit by Katie Price (Century)
  14. My Life, My Way by Cliff Richard (Headline)
  15. The Mighty Book of Boosh by Barratt & Fielding (Canongate)
  16. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (Simon & Schuster)
  17. Fern: My Story by Fern Britton (Michael Joseph)
  18. Ripley's Believe it or Not by Robert le Roy Ripley (Random House)
  19. Dreams That Glitter by Girls Aloud (Bantam Press)
  20. Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite by Gordon Ramsay (Quadrille)

*For the 52 weeks ending 27th December 2008. From Nielsen BookScan -

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Book Review: Day by A.L. Kennedy

Genre: Fiction
Published by: Jonathan Cape Ltd. (2007)
Pages: 288

Alfred Day wanted his war. In its turmoil he found his proper purpose as the tail-gunner in a Lancaster bomber; he found the wild, dark fellowship of his crew, and - most extraordinary of all - he found Joyce, a woman to love. But that's all gone now - the war took it away. Maybe it took him, too. Before Hitler and the bombs he was a boy in Staffordshire, helpless to defend his mother, to resist his abusive father. The RAF gave him order, skills, another family and a way to be a man. It taught him how to burn through lifetimes on night ops and brief, sweet leaves, surviving the unsurvivable. But it didn't prepare him for capture, for the prison camp and the chaos as the war wound down. It didn't prepare him for an empty peace. Now it's 1949 and Alfred is doing the impossible again, winding back time to see where he lost himself. He has taken the role of an extra in a Pow film. Shipped out to Germany and an ersatz camp, he picks his way through the cliches that will become all that's left of his war and begins to do what he's never dared - to remember. He is looking for some semblance of hope: trying to move forward by going back.

Unfortunately, I just couldn't finish it. I found the writing difficult to understand and confusing. I got to about page 40 and I really didn't want to carry on. I have too many other books to read to waste time on one that wasn't making any sense and that I just wasn't enjoying reading.

A.L. Kennedy's story goes backwards and forwards in time and the words did not have any structure, they were random words in paragraphs.

Sorry, but it just wasn't for me.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Book Review: Coming Up Next by Penny Smith

Genre: Fiction
Published by: Harper Perennial (2008)
Pages: 327

A darkly comic novel about the fall and rise of a TV presenter. When Katie Fisher, morning TV presenter, returns from holiday it's to discover that she's been publicly sacked from her job as anchor of Hello Britain! and replaced by a pert young thing, she does what any self-respecting thirty something would in these circumstances -- she makes a dash for her parents and hits the bottle. But Katie, sooner or later, has to face the world, the photographers, and the backstage intrigue of morning television: the cut-throat, lecherous producers, the ambitious but vacant Keera, and Mike, her co-host, a trustworthy friend or just another one of the many back-stabbers? Humour is Katie's only weapon and, as things hit rock-bottom, it could provide a perfect solution to life after the sofa.

If you're looking for a story with a deep meaning where you'll expand your vocabulary and learning, then this is not the book for you.

But if you want a book to read on the beach or by the pool on holiday that doesn't stretch your mind then you could do a lot worse than pick this.

The story centres around Katie Fisher and the people, family and friends who surround her, many of whom are predictable 3d characters who are instantly forgettable. There are some quite funny quotes in the book, most of which are too rude to print here! There is lots of back-stabbing and the story is somewhat predictable but that's not always a bad thing.

Katie Fisher was a likeable character and I felt a little sympathy for her predicament, so I did find myself hoping that her circumstances would change for the better.

My overall thoughts are that it's a fairly enjoyable, easy to read story that doesn't pretend to be something that it's not.

First Line: In hindsight, the holiday had probably not been a good idea.

What I Liked About It: Easy to follow plotline.

What I Didn't Like: Too many characters! I just couldn't remember who they all were, I actually had to write down their names/jobs so that I didn't get confused.


Penny Smith has a new book coming out in June 2009 - After The Break.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...