Sunday, 26 December 2010

Chris Kuzneski: The Lost Throne

Hewn into the towering cliffs of central Greece, the Metéora monasteries are all but inacessible. The Holy Trinity is the most isolated, its sacred brotherhood the guardians of a long-forgotten secret. In the dead of night, the sanctity of the holy retreat is shattered by an elite group of warriors, carrying ancient weapons. One by one, they hurl the silent monks from the cliff-top - the holy men taking their secret to their rocky graves. Halfway across Europe, a terrified academic fears for his life. Richard Byrd has nearly uncovered the location of one of the Seven Ancient Wonders - the statue of Zeus and his mighty throne. But Byrd's search has also uncovered a forbidden conspiracy, and there are those who would do anything to conceal its dark agenda...

An interesting approach to Greek history and the history of the Spartan culture. Another great and enjoyable, pacey read about antiques and lost cultures.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Trisha Ashley: Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas has always been a sad time for young widow Holly Brown, so when she's asked to look after a remote house on the Lancashire moors, the opportunity to hide herself away is irresistible – the perfect excuse to forget about the festivities. Sculptor, Jude Martland, is determined that this year there will be no Christmas after his brother runs off with his fiancée and he is keen to avoid the family home. Suddenly, the blizzards come out of nowhere and the whole village is snowed in. With no escape, Holly and Jude get much more than they bargained for – it looks like the twelve days of Christmas are going to be very interesting indeed!

What a nice Christmas story! The book started as a great mystery and romance women's fiction book and I was keen to find out more about Holly and Jude. Only, towards the end the story was too predictable and flat. A shame, really, but it still helped to get into the Christmas mood...

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Richard & Rachael Heller. The 13th Apostle

36AD: Micah -- Jesus' friend, trusted confidant, and the 13th Apostle -- inscribes a message, upon which mankind's fate would one day be determined. Present day: Internet forensic specialist, Gil Pearson, is recruited to decipher an ancient diary and reveal Micah's hidden message, which may lead to the most mysterious of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Working with the enigmatic Sabbie Karaim, Gil becomes embroiled in an international mystery spanning two thousand years, and for which others would gladly give their lives -- or, more willingly, take his.

This is a great story and interesting theory about Jesus and his 13th Apostle. I liked the pace as well as the philosophical aspects. However, some parts of the storyline were too far-fetched for my liking. It's a good read, but not in the league of some of the other conspiracy stories around....

Friday, 10 December 2010

Chris Kuzneski: Sword of God

Tunnelling deep under one of the most holy cities in the world, an ambitious young archaeologist slowly works her way towards an unthinkable goal. Somewhere ahead is a chamber containing the collected fragments of an ancient scripture, a find of unimaginable significance. Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a covert military bunker holds a macabre secret. An elite special-forces officer seems to have been brutally murdered – but how, and more disturbingly, why? Any hope of solving the mystery rests on the grisly clues that remain. As the race to uncover the truth begins, a plot unfolds that could burn all of civilization in the fires of holy Armageddon. THOSE WHO LIVE BY THE SWORD...

An enjoyable, pacy and exciting read with a lot of humour, and not too gory in its details. Some sections were slightly confusing, e.g. the connection to the Sword of God is not clear to me. But I'll continue to read the remaining books of Kuzneski...

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Chris Kuzneski: Sign of the Cross

No secret will keep for ever ... A Vatican priest is found murdered on the shores of Denmark nailed to a cross. He is the first victim in a vicious killing spree that spans the world. Each horrific murder exactly mirrors the crucifixion of Christ. Meanwhile, deep in the Roman Catacombs of Orvieto, an archaeologist uncovers an ancient scroll dating back two thousand years. The scroll, he knows, holds the key to a dark and treacherous secret that will rock the very foundations of the Church. But only if he can decipher its lost meanings, and only if he can live long enough to reveal them ...

Another pacy read by Chris Kuzneski. This was less violent than the Plantation, but more confusing than the Secret Crown. This seems to tie in well with Dan Brown's style of writing. The humour, however, is particularly enjoyable...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Ann Pearlman: The Christmas Cookie Club

Every year on the first Monday of December, Marnie and her twelve closest girlfriends gather with batches of beautifully wrapped homemade cookies. Everyone has to bring a dish and a bottle of wine and, as they eat, they take turns telling the story of the cookies they have baked. Stories that, somehow, are always emblematic of the year that has just passed: Marnie's oldest daughter has a risky pregnancy, Jeannie's father is having an affair with her best friend, Sissy's rapping jailbird son will be a father soon and Charlene is trying to overcome the death of her beloved son Luke. The Cookie Club is about the passion and hopefulness of a new romance, the betrayal and disillusionment some relationships bring, the joys and fears of motherhood, and above all, it's a celebration of the friendships between women.

This Christmas story was very emotional, funny and sad at the same time.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Jane Green: The other woman

Ellie and Dan are living proof that opposites attract. He always follows instructions and she throws the manual away. He loves sports whereas Ellie's allergic to any form of exercise. Ellie doesn't have a mother. And Dan does - a mother who wants to take over. At first Ellie is thrilled to have Linda as her 'adopted' mother but when she and Dan decide to get married and wedding plans progress, she starts to wonder: is she marrying Dan or his mother?

This women's fiction book has been a great read to chill. At times funny and sad, the story of Ellie's and Dan's relationship with one another but also the relationship to their parents and in-laws was enjoyable and yet thought-provoking. Some parts of the story were predictable and the happy ending seemed a bit too far-fetched, but still it was a good and fast read.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Chris Kuzneski: The Plantation

Across the country, people are being kidnapped. Jonathon Payne is following the clues from his girlfriend's disappearance to a New Orleans plantation-and the South's most violent and shocking secret.

This story was incredibly pacy and humorous, but also very violent and bloody. It was also interesting to find out about Kuzneski's research prior to this story. I found the story very disturbing at times, but still enjoyed reading this book.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Chris Kuzneski: The Secret Crown

Bavaria, 1886 King Ludwig II, infamous for his eccentric behavior, is declared insane by his government and removed from his throne. A day later, Ludwig’s corpse washes up in the shallows of Lake Starnberg. Rumours about the cause of the tragedy abound, but few people know why Ludwig was really killed. Or what secret was silenced by his death. Germany, present day . . . Hidden among the crates in a newly discovered Nazi bunker are documents stamped with a black swan, the insignia of the murdered king. As a favour to a friend, Jonathon Payne and David Jones fly to Bavaria to protect the documents, but soon face a life-or-death battle against an unknown enemy. From the depths of the Black Forest to the water canals underneath Ludwig’s castles, the duo must solve the mystery behind the king’s death or share his tragic fate.

This has been a hugely successful birthday present for me! The read reminds me of Dan Brown, but the characters are more illustrious and the storyline is less confusing. A fantastic and pacy read!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Jodi Picoult: Handle with care

Charlotte O'Keefe's beautiful, much-longed-for, adored daughter Willow is born with osteogenesis imperfecta - a very severe form of brittle bone disease. If she slips on a crisp packet she could break both her legs, and spend six months in a half body cast. After years of caring for Willow, her family faces financial disaster. Then Charlotte is offered a lifeline. She could sue her obstetrician for wrongful birth - for not having diagnosed Willow's condition early enough in the pregnancy to be able to abort the child. The payout could secure Willow's future. But to get it would mean Charlotte suing her best friend. And standing up in court to declare that she would have prefered that Willow had never been born...

As usual in Jodi Picoult fashion the book is a great read presenting an unbelievable moral dilemma for the O'Keefe family. Although the story line was gripping and the effects of the lawsuit on Piper, Charlotte, Sean, Amelia and Marin were displayed brilliantly, it was too telling that Willow was always referred to and never "spoke" for herself. If would have been great to get Willow's point of view, which would also have made the ending more surprising...

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Jodi Picoult: House Rules

Jacob Hunt is a teenager: brilliant at maths, wicked sense of humour, extraordinarily organised, hopeless at reading social cues. And Jacob has Asperger's. He is locked in his own world – aware of the world outside, and wanting to make a connection. Jacob tries to be like everyone else, but doesn't know how. When his tutor is found dead, all the hallmark behaviours of Jacob's syndrome – not looking someone in the eye, odd movements, inappropriate actions – start looking a lot like guilt to the police. And Jacob's mother must ask herself the hardest question in the world: is her child capable of murder?

Another fascinating read by a great author. The reader can identify easily with all characters and it is shockingly easy to see how Jacob could be considered a cold-blooded murderer, when all he wants to do is help....

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Aimee Bender: The particular sadness of lemon cake

On the eve of her ninth birthday, unassuming Rose Edelstein, a girl at the periphery of schoolyard games and her distracted parents’ attention, bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. The curse her gift has bestowed is the secret knowledge all families keep hidden—her mother’s life outside the home, her father’s detachment, her brother’s clash with the world. Yet as Rose grows up she learns to harness her gift and becomes aware that there are secrets even her taste buds cannot discern.

This was a fantastic read initially. Unfortunately, the story got stranger by the page and the end left me with a sad and bitter after-taste, as the gift of Rose's brother Joe is not exploited well enough.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Barbara Delinsky: The Family Tree

Dana Clarke has it all -- a husband, Hugh, who she adores, a beautiful home in a wealthy area, and a baby on the way. But, when her daughter, Lizzie, is born, what should be the happiest day of her life turns out to be the moment that her world falls apart. Lizzie is beautiful, healthy, and black! ...

This was a great read and it strongly reminded me of Jodi Picoult's dilemmas. It's interesting to see each person's reaction to the fact that the little girl is black. The story is gripping, but unfortunately, the end is too weak for my taste. Still, a great read!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Jane Green: Bookends

Cath and Si are best friends. Total opposites, always together, and both unlucky in love. Cath is scatty, messy, and emotionally closed. Si is impossibly tidy, bitchy, and desperate for a man of his own. They live near each other in West Hampstead, close to their other best friends Josh and Lucy - who are married, with a devil-spawn child called Max and a terrifying Swedish nanny, Ingrid. When Portia steps back into their lives, - beautiful Portia, the undisputed queen of their group at university, who broke their collective hearts one night and from whom they have all gradually, silently, grown apart - her reappearance sets off a chain of events that tests them to the limit. Does Portia have a hidden agenda, or is she just looking for happy endings all round? Whatever the answers, none of them could ever predict the outcome ...

Although the book started like any usual "women's fiction book", I soon discovered that there was more to it. The stories around the friendships and lost contact struck a chord, but also the fact that not all is rosy! A brilliant read...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Scarlett Thomas: The end of Mr Y

When Ariel Manto uncovers a copy of The End of Mr. Y in a second-hand bookshop, she can't believe her eyes. She knows enough about its author, the outlandish Victorian scientist Thomas Lumas, to know that copies are exceedingly rare. And, some say, cursed.With Mr. Y under her arm, Ariel finds herself thrust into a thrilling adventure of love, sex, death and time-travel.

This was a bizarre book, which I hadn't expected like that at all. Although there were some interesting philosophical approaches such as the "Gedankenspiele", the story got stranger by the page and thus difficult to follow.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Cecelia Ahern: The Book of Tomorrow

Tamara Goodwin always had everything she wanted. Why would she ever give a thought to tomorrow? But suddenly life takes a difficult turn, and Tamara faces the hard decision to swap her glamorous town living for life in the country. However, Tamara is soon lonely and longing for her old life. Then a travelling library arrives in the village, bringing with it a mysterious leather-bound book locked with a gold clasp and padlock. What Tamara discovers within its pages takes her breath away and shakes her world forever.

This was an interesting and gripping story about love and deceit in a family, where only some lies and half-truths have been told to protect others. Tamara and her grieving mother are interesting, as are Marcus and Weseley, but Rosaleen and Arthur are suspicious right from the start. However, the huge lies they have been living with weren't predictable either. The only criticism of this book is that some overly long descriptive passages were included, which were not really helping the storyline or characterisation.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Cecelia Ahern: The Gift

Lou Suffern is practised in the art of concealment. He is, also, always overstretched, trying to do too many things at once. His overburdened schedule gives him few moments of peace, even in his sleep. And when he spends time at home with his wife and family, he is always distracted, and, mentally, somewhere else. On a cold winter morning, Lou is on his way to work when he encounters Gabe, a homeless street dweller, sitting outside an office building. Lou is intrigued by him, and contrives to get him a job in the post room. But this act of charity rebounds on him, and Gabe’s presence begins to grate on Lou -- particularly when he discovers that the latter seems capable of being in two places at the same time. Christmas is drawing near, and before the season is over, Lou’s life will be irrevocably change by the casual act of kindness he has performed.

Although this seems to be a Christmas story and is set around Christmas, it actually is timeless. It's a great story about love, about juggling life and work, about being everywhere at the same time. The conflicts between Lou and Ruth but also between Lou and his work colleagues are very realistic and help the reader identify with the characters. Although Lou is rather unlikable and egotistic it becomes obvious that he genuinely tries to do what he thinks is the best for his family.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Celia Rees: Sorceress

The story is taken over by a young modern-day historian called Alison Ellman and a Native American Indian called Agnes, who realises that there is a spiritual link between herself and the long-dead English girl. The pair track down the truth of what happened to Mary, each in their own way. But it is through Agnes that Mary's story truly unfolds as the girl goes on a spiritual journey of self-discovery. In a trance-like state, she becomes Mary. We learn of her marriage to the Indian warrior Jaybird, their children and the suffering of her people when war comes.

Although it was interesting to find out more about Mary and although it was great to learn more about the Indian settlements in the past and the present, the story became to disjointed towards the end.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Celia Rees: Witch Child

Mary's grandmother is executed for witchcraft, and Mary is forced to leave her home to avoid the same fate. At first she flees to the English countryside, but when the atmosphere of superstition and suspicion becomes all consuming she leaves on a boat for America in the hope that she can start over and forget her past. But during the journey, she realises that the past is not so easy to escape.

This is a gripping story about people's superstitions and the preacher's fear to lose their sheep to the so-called witches. The storyline hinted at Salem, but it would have been nice had that been followed up more rigorously.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Rick Riordan: Percy Jackson

The Lightning Thief - The Sea of Monsters - The Titan's Curse - The Battle of the Labyrinth - The Last Olympian
Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood. I never asked to be the son of a Greek God. I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporized my maths teacher. That's when things started really going wrong. Now I spend my time fighting with swords, battling monsters with my friends, and generally trying to stay alive.

This series of Young Adult books is gripping for its storyline, and at the same time it is a great introduction to the Greek mythology. Many of the stories are quite commonly known, however, there are some less popular and famous Greek myths that have also been interwoven. Although the thought of the Greek Gods interfering with today's civilisation sounds far-fetched, it is carried off feasibly in this series.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Donna Leon: Brunetti 19 - A question of belief

Venice is sweltering in a heat wave, and Leon's doughty copper is looking forward to getting away from the city and relaxing with his family in the relative cool of the mountains. But his colleague Ispettore Vianello has other things on his mind than the weather; his aunt, seemingly befuddled by an obsessive belief in horoscopes and astrology, has been siphoning off considerable amount of cash from the family business. Vianello asks Brunetti if it would be possible to trail her -- and this unorthodox investigation points the detectives in the direction of one Stefano Gorini. This beneficiary of the aunt’s largesse is not everything that he seems. At the same time, it appears that there have been irregularities in the courts. At the Tribulane, an usher with a previously spotless reputation, Fontana, has been involved in suspicious business with a judge, Luisa Coltellini -- it appears that justice has a price. And then Fontana is brutally killed. Brunetti and Vianello now have more than enough problems to keep them even busier than usual.

Another Brunetti-story, which is entertaining for both the crime story and the treatise of Italian life and society. I read this story at a time, when personally visiting Venice, which made it the more real and accessible...

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Monica Ali: Brick Lane

Nazneen is a teenager forced into an arranged marriage with a man considerably older than her--a man whose expectations of life are so low that misery seems to stretch ahead for her. Fearfully leaving the sultry oppression of her Bangladeshi village, Nazneen finds herself cloistered in a small flat in a high-rise block in the East End of London. Because she speaks no English, she is obliged to depend totally on her husband. But it becomes apparent that, of the two, she is the real survivor: more able to deal with the ways of the world, and a better judge of the vagaries of human behaviour. She makes friends with another Asian girl, Razia, who is the conduit to her understanding of the unsettling ways of her new homeland.

This is an interesting story about Asian culture and life-style in a western country. Although for a western reader it is difficult to follow in places due to the cultural differences, the book provides a brilliant insight into the trials of an Asian and half-Asian family making their way in England.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Roopa Farooki: Bitter sweets

Shona Karim is in love. When she first sets eyes on Parvez at the age of ten, she knows he is the man of her dreams. Just like her father – tricked into marriage by her shamelessly deceitful mother – she is a hopeless romantic. Years later, lying to themselves and their families, the young lovers elope to start a new life above a sweet shop in south London. But Shona’s inheritance is one of double lives and complicit deception. As time passes, and her children are born, it appears that she too has dark secrets that are about to be exposed. Can a family built on lies ever shake off its legacy? And can love ever be strong enough to right the wrongs of the past?

This is an epic story about Asian people living between two cultures and trying to find their way in western civilisation. At the same time, it is about Shona learning to deal with truth and lies. A brilliant read...

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Paul Torday: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

This is the story of Dr Alfred Jones, a fisheries scientist - for whom diary - notable events include the acquisition of a new electric toothbrush and getting his article on caddis fly larvae published in 'Trout and Salmon' - who finds himself reluctantly involved in a project to bring salmon fishing to the Highlands of the Yemen - a project that will change his life, and the course of British political history forever.

This was a brilliant read with a great choice of texts presented to illustrate Fred's dryness, Peter Maxwell (the helmsman)'s self-confidence, the obscure workings of bureaucratic Britan and Mary's and Hillary's approach to their respective relationships. It's funny, wicked, brilliant, sarcastic, but in a way I get the feeling that - although there is so much in that novel - it will not be one that stays with you forever. A great, relaxing summer read!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Giselle Green: Little Miracles

Julia Fearon arrives in Spain with fiance Charlie and their 18-month old son Haydn, excited to meet his family and plan their forthcoming wedding. But Julia's happiness is short-lived as she must grapple with a clan steeped in tradition, ritual and Catholicism and a day at the beach leads to a terrible tragedy. A freak storm causes chaos and amidst the pandemonium Haydn disappears. Whilst the authorities presume him drowned, Julia is tortured by the possibility that her child is alive - and has been snatched.

This was a great read, as the views of both Charlie and Julia are presented. In places though, I found both characters unlikable, because they both keep too many secrets from one another. I was quite disappointed with the final scene, but overall I found the topic interesting and the emotional side of the topic well-developed.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Donna Leon: Brunetti 18 - About Face

At a dinner party given by his parents-in-law Comissario Brunetti meets Franca Marinello, the wife of a prosperous Venetian businessman. He’s charmed by Signora Marinello's love of Virgil and Cicero, but shocked by her appearance. A few days later, Brunetti is visited by Carabinieri Maggiore Filipo Guarino, who wants information about the owner of a trucking company found murdered in his offices. Soon after that he himself is dead. Was he killed because he got too close? And how is it that Franca Marinello has often been seen in company of the suspect, a vulgar man with Mafia connections and a violent past?

Rather typical of any Donna Leon crime fiction, this was an entertaining and distracting read, and as usual Brunetti and his wife Paola are likeable and interesting. The usual cast of the Venetian police, Patta, Scarpa, Vianello and Pucetti add to the delightful mix of characters. However, for me this was the first Leon novel, where the solution and denouement were disappointing and left me wanting more detail and more of a conclusion.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Wendy Leigh: Patrick Swayze - One last dance

For almost thirty years, Patrick Swayze has been an icon of masculinity and sex appeal, strong but sensitive, romantic yet dangerous. In this intimate and revealing biography, bestselling author Wendy Leigh shares the inspiring untold story of Patrick's incredible life.

This book was a great surprise. I didn't expect it to be that interesting, but actually I was taken by surprise as to how many films and theatre productions Patrick Swayze was involved in. Due to the many quotes and references the style of writing was sometimes a bit difficult to follow.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Frank W Abagnale: Catch me if you can

Frank W. Abagnale, alias Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams and Ringo Monjo, was a daring conman, forger, impostor and escape artist. In his brief but notorious career, Abagnale donned a pilot's uniform and co-piloted a Pan Am jet, masqueraded as a member of hospital management, practised law without a licence, passed himself off as a college sociology professor and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks, all before he was 21. Known by the police of 26 foreign countries and all 50 US states as "The Skywayman", Abagnale lived a sumptuous life on the run - until the law caught up with him. Now recognized as a leading authority on financial foul play, Abagnale is a charming rogue whose hilarious, stranger-than-fiction international escapades and ingenious escapes - including one from an aeroplane - make "Catch Me If You Can" an irresistible tale of deceit.

This story has been a great read. It's absolutely unbelievable that Abagnale got through with his cons. Also, it's funny to see that even in the most impossible situations he still thought of ways to make money with cons....

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Cecilia Ahern: Thanks for the Memories

How can you know someone you've never met? Joyce Conway remembers things she shouldn't. She knows about tiny cobbled streets in Paris, which she has never visited. And every night she dreams about an unknown girl with blonde hair. Justin Hitchcock is divorced, lonely and restless. He arrives in Dublin to give a lecture on art and meets an attractive doctor, who persuades him to donate blood. It's the first thing to come straight from his heart in a long time. When Joyce leaves hospital after a terrible accident, with her life and her marriage in pieces, she moves back in with her elderly father. All the while, a strong sense of déjà vu is overwhelming her and she can't figure out why...

This was a rather strange story with a bizarre storyline, but very entertaining. Although I found the main theme a bit far-fetched, it was funny to follow Joyce's and Justin's efforts to meet up and get to know each other. My favourite character, however, was Joyce's dad, whose fascination with the Antiques Roadshow leads to some surreal and comic situations in London.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Elizabeth Edmondson: The villa in Italy

Four strangers are summoned to the Villa Dante, a grand but neglected villa on the Italian coast. Each of them has been named in a will of Beatrice Malaspina; but not one of them knows who she is. Delia, an opera singer robbed of her voice by illness; George, an idealistic scientist who cannot face what his skills have created; Marjorie, desperately poor and unable to dislodge her writer's block; and Lucius, ostensibly in control but whose personal life is in chaos. While they wait to find out more, the villa begins to work its seductive magic. With its faded frescoes, overgrown garden and magnificent mediaeval tower, it is unlike anywhere they have been before. Slowly, four characters who have gone to great lengths to hide their troubles find that change -- and even hope -- is possible after all.

This book was an Amazon recommendation to follow up "The island". The mystery around Beatrice Malaspina and the variety of characters were fascinating and kept me wanting to read the story as quickly as possible. Although the story unfolds slowly, there was not a moment's of boredom and even though towards the end the denouement was becoming more predictable and clichéd, this was a great read. The book covers different walks of life and deals with the aftermaths of the Second World War, but this is in such an inobtrusive way that reading this book has been a great pleasure.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Sophie King: The school run

A week in the lives of seven people - all on the same route to school: Harriet is waiting for her husband to tell her if their marriage is on – or off. Pippa is about to receive some potentially devastating hospital results. Evie has one week to save her career – and find her missing husband. Nick’s wife died two years ago, leaving him with a troublesome teenage daughter. Martine, a French au pair, is about to run off with a married man. Kitty, a school teacher, accepts a bet to find a man in a week. And Betty watches by the roadside, looking for the driver who killed her son. Little do any of them know that by the end of the week the school run will have become a collision course, connecting their lives in more ways than one.

The storyline sounded interesting and so I picked up this book. However, although the characters are refreshingly truthful and although identifying with different characters comes naturally, the style of writing was quite confusing at times. Of course, it helped to see each scene from one character's perspective, yet, sometimes I found it difficult to remember who was who. Also, the climax of the storyline is somewhat surreal, which I thought didn't match the rest of the book. Entertaining, but not a great read...

Friday, 14 May 2010

Victoria Hislop: The island

On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. But when Alexis decides to visit Crete, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.
Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone’s throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony. Then she finds Fortini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip..

This is an incredibly powerful story about never-ending and enduring love, about passion and beliefs. Although I found the beginning of the book too clichéd, the story soon unfolded to be gripping and reading about the leper colony and Sofia's family turned out to be an emotional roller-coster.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Liz Smith: Our Betty

Liz Smith, once called the nation's favourite fictional grandmother, is a familiar face to all TV and cinema viewers. She is most often recognised for her role of Nana in The Royle Family. OUR BETTY is Liz's life story - from her cosseted yet lonely childhood with her beloved grandparents, through the war with the WRENS, marriage and children, divorce and poverty, long years working in dead-end jobs, until her heavenly escape of evening acting classes provided the chance for a career. OUR BETTY is, like its author, original, amusing and fascinating on the struggles, hopes and successes endemic of a life in front of the camera.

The subtitle "Scenes from my life" clearly describes the nature of the book. It's more a collection of brief episodes than the narrative of Liz Smith's life. In places, I found it hard to relate to the story, as Liz Smith describes life in the UK before, during and shortly after the war, times, where people didn't have phones or TVs. However, I liked the fact that Smith doesn't describe her past all-colourful and glorious. Times were hard then and times are hard now, only different....

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Ake Edwardson: Zimmer Nr. 10

Die Frau im Zimmer Nr. 10 des abgetakelten Hotels zwinkert noch mit ihrem rechten Auge. Aber das hat einzig und allein mit den beiden Elektroden zu tun, die die Ärztin angelegt hat, um über die Muskelreaktionen den Todeszeitpunkt besser bestimmen zu können. Denn die junge Frau, Paula Ney mit Namen, wurde erhängt aufgefunden, mit einem offenbar erzwungenen Abschiedsbrief und einer blendend weiß gestrichenen Hand, die vielleicht der Mörder bepinselt hat. Kriminalkommissar Erik Winter aus Göteborg steht vor dem vielleicht rätselhaftesten Fall seiner Karriere. Doch damit nicht genug: Das Zimmer Nr. 10 kommt Winter überaus bekannt vor. Er erkennt, dass eben dieser Raum der Schauplatz seines ersten Kriminalfalls war. Der Kommissar holt auch diesen alten, niemals aufgeklärten Fall aus dem Archiv -- und stößt auf Bezüge, die nicht zuletzt sein eigenes Leben bedrohen. Denn er hat es mit einem Psychopathen zu tun, dem alles egal zu sein scheint ....

Die Geschichte war fesselnd und der Polizist Erik Winter und die anderen Mitarbeiter der Fahndungsabteilung waren auch sehr interessant. Allerdings empfand ich den Erzählstil des Autors zeitweise als zu langwierig, was die an sich spannende Handlung stark verlangsamte. Dagegen war die Begegnung Winters mit dem Psychopathen zu kurz und grob.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Andrea Camilleri: Die schwarze Seele des Sommers

Es ist August, die Sonne brennt, alle sind im Urlaub - bis auf Commissario Montalbano. Und nun soll er auch noch eine am Meer gelegene Villa suchen, weil Freunde aus dem Norden dort ihre Ferien verbringen wollen. Das ist schnell erledigt, alle sind zufrieden - bis zu dem Tag, an dem der Sohn der Urlauber plötzlich spurlos im Innern der Villa verschwindet. Als Montalbano sich auf die Suche begibt, stellt sich heraus, dass sich unter dem Fundament des Gebäudes ein zweites Haus befindet, von dessen Existenz niemand etwas wusste. Während der Junge bald wohlbehalten wiedergefunden wird, findet Montalbano die Leiche einer Frau, die seit sechs Jahren als vermisst gilt. Doch das ist erst der Anfang einer dunklen Reise in die Vergangenheit...

Camilleris Geschichte ist ein sehr kurzweiliger und spannender Krimi, der das sommerliche Sizilien bestens vermittelt. Als Leser fühlt man mit Salvo Montalbano, wenn er versucht das Böse zu bekämpfen, aber dabei selber immer wieder an die Grenzen des Erlaubten stösst und diese auch überschreitet. Die Beschreibungen von Montalbano, der den Strand, die Villetti am Meer und die vorzüglichen Speisen genießt, lassen den Leser selbst auf Reisen gehen und machen zudem die Hauptfigur besonders liebenswert.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Masha Hamilton: The Camel Bookmobile

Once a fortnight, the nomadic settlement of Madidima, set deep in the dusty Kenyan desert, awaits the arrival of three camels laden down with panniers of books. This is the Camel Bookmobile, a scheme set up to bring books to scattered tribes whose daily life is dominated by drought, famine and disease. Kanika, a young girl who lives with her grandmother, devours every book she can lay her hands on. Her best friend is Taban aka Scar Boy, a child who was mauled at the age of three by a hyena. They are joined by Matani the village teacher, his alluring wife Jwahir and the drummaker Abayomi, as well as Mr Abasi, the camel driver, who is convinced that one of the camels is possessed by the spirit of his dead mother-in-law. The only condition of The Camel Bookmobile is that every book must be returned or else the visits will cease. Then one day a book disappears...

This is an interesting story about assumptions and learning and teaching. Although Fi is very enthusiastic about bringing literature into the desert, she is also ignorant about how much she needs to learn herself rather than teach others. In their own nomadic lifestyle the villagers of Madidima are more civilised than Fi in her New York style will ever be. I loved the book although I found that it ended too quickly. It would have been great to go on for some more. However, the ending was very plausible anything other than Mididima "disappearing" would have been cheesy...

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Donna Leon: Brunetti 16 - Suffer the little children

When Commissario Brunetti is summoned to the hospital bedside of a senior pediatrician whose skull has been fractured, he is confronted with more questions than answers. Three Carabinieri have burst into the doctor’s apartment in the middle of the night, attacked him and taken away his eighteen-month old baby. What can have motivated such a violent assault by the police? But then Brunetti begins to uncover a story of infertility, desperation, and an underworld in which babies can be bought for cash, at the same time as Inspector Vianello uncovers a money-making scam between pharmacists and doctors in the city. But one of the pharmacists is motivated by more than thoughts of gain - the power of knowledge and delusions of moral rectitude can be as destructive and powerful as love of money. And the uses of information about one's neighbours can lead to all kinds of corruption and all sorts of pain…

This was a quick and interesting crime story although it was not in the typical fashion of Donna Leon. There were many sections where Brunetti and Paola or Vianello are discussing ethical issues relating to having children illegally and then having those taken away to orphanages.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Sarah Dunant: Sacred Hearts

1570 in the Italian city of Ferrara, and the convent of Santa Caterina is filled with noble women who are married to Christ because many cannot find husbands outside. Enter sixteen-year-old Serafina, ripped by her family from an illicit love affair, howling with rage and hormones and determined to escape. While on the other side of the great walls, counter-reformation forces in the Church are pushing for change, inside, Serafina's spirit and defiance ignite a fire that threatens to engulf the whole convent. This is a novel about power, creativity and passion - both of the body and of the soul.

Although the storyline did not sound gripping, this novel has been one of my most favourite reads ever. The personal stories around Suora Zuana, novice Serafina, Suora Umiliana and abbess Madonna Chiara and the other members of the convent are well interwoven with the church reformations outside the convent walls. I would not have chosen to read this book had it not been featured on the book club. Also, the references to the bible and the fact that the psalms used have been chosen to match the stories make this book an irresistible read.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Kate Mosse: Labyrinth

When Dr Alice Tanner discovers two skeletons during an archaeological dig in southern France, she unearths a link with a horrific and brutal past. But it's not just the sight of the shattered bones that makes her uneasy; there's an overwhelming sense of evil in the tomb that Alice finds hard to shake off, even in the bright French sunshine. Puzzled by the words carved inside the chamber, Alice has an uneasy feeling that she has disturbed something which was meant to remain hidden... Eight hundred years ago, on the night before a brutal civil war ripped apart Languedoc, a book was entrusted to Alais, a young herbalist and healer. Although she cannot understand the symbols and diagrams the book contains, Alais knows her destiny lies in protecting their secret, at all costs. Skilfully blending the lives of two women divided by centuries but united by a common destiny, LABYRINTH is a powerful story steeped in the atmosphere and history of southern France.

This is a fantastic read, although it is predictable in places and sometimes I also found the descriptions a bit too slow. However, I liked the idea of the labyrinth trilogy and how the stories around Alais and Alice are connected.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Dan Brown: The Lost Symbol

Washington DC: Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned at the last minute to deliver an evening lecture in the Capitol Building. Within moments of his arrival, however, a disturbing object – gruesomely encoded with five symbols – is discovered at the epicentre of the Rotunda. It is, he recognises, an ancient invitation, meant to beckon its recipient towards a long-lost world of hidden esoteric wisdom. Langdon finds himself quickly swept behind the facade of America’s most historic city into the unseen chambers, temples and tunnels which exist there. All that was familiar is transformed into a shadowy, clandestine world of an artfully concealed past in which Masonic secrets and never-before-seen revelations seem to be leading him to a single impossible and inconceivable truth.

The story is interesting and although there is a wealth of information to process, the storyline can be followed easily and sounds feasible most of the time. I found the strand around Ma'lakh fascinating and surprising. However, once the fast-paced action ends the book drones on for too long to solve the remaining mysteries.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Ruth Newman: Twisted Wing

Cambridge is home to 18,000 students, 1,500 academics - and one serial killer. The discovery of the headless, mutilated body of a female undergraduate in her bloodsoaked college room heralds the start of a series of bizarre and extremely violent murders. For the students of Ariel College, a siege mentality has developed following weeks of media interest in the 'Cambridge Butcher'. University life has become not about surviving their exams, but surviving full stop. Forensic psychiatrist Matthew Denison is sure that his traumatised patient, student Olivia Coscadden, has the killer's identity locked up in her memory. That within the little clique she belonged to lurks someone with a grudge. Someone who has yet to finish settling their score. In order to get to the truth, Denison must delve into the secrets hidden within Olivia's subconscious. Secrets that are about to lead him into a nightmare beyond imagining.

This is a fascinating mystery and psychological thriller with some unexpected twists. Dr. Denison is a very likeable character and the storyline is presented in an intriguing but feasible manner. A chilling read!

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Dan Brown: Angels and Demons

When a world renowned scientist is found brutally murdered, a Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, is summoned to identify the mysterious symbol seared onto the dead man's chest. His conclusion: it is the work of the Illuminati, a secret brotherhood presumed extinct for nearly four hundred years - now reborn to continue their bitter vendetta against their sworn enemy, the Catholic church.
In Rome, the college of cardinals assembles to elect a new pope. Yet somewhere within the walls of the Vatican, an unstoppable bomb of terrifying power relentlessly counts down to oblivion. While the minutes tick away, Langdon joins forces with Vittoria Vetra, a beautiful and mysterious Italian scientist, to decipher the labyrinthine trail of ancient symbols that snakes across Rome to the long-forgotten Illuminati lair - a secret refuge wherein lies the only hope for the Vatican.
But, with each revelation comes another twist, another turn in the plot, which leaves Langdon and Vetra reeling and at the mercy of a seemingly invincible enemy.

Again, a historic fact/fiction thriller with fascinating art symbols and a pacy story. Robert Langdon is an interesting character, as he is so knowledgeable about old symbols and art history, yet does not throw himself into any police action easily. Vittoria's appearance as Leonardo Vetra's adopted daughter and her involvement in sciences is also well developed. The stories surrounding Max Kohler and the Camerlegno, Captain Rocher and Captain Olivetti seemed somehow far-fetched, but what makes a good book is that the reader ís surprised and Dan Brown clearly surprised me in the book's final chapters. Again, however, I did not like the physical tension and attraction between Robert Langdon and Vittoria, as this is unfeasible and artificial...

Monday, 22 February 2010

Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code

Robert Langdon, Harvard Professor of symbology, receives an urgent late-night call while in Paris: the curator of the Louvre has been murdered. Alongside the body is a series of baffling ciphers. Langdon and a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, are stunned to find a trail that leads to the works of Da Vinci - and further. The curator, part of a secret society named the Priory of Sion, may have sacrificed his life to keep secret the location of a vastly important religious relic hidden for centuries. It appears that the clandestine Vatican-sanctioned Catholic sect Opus Dei has now made its move. Unless Landon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine code and quickly assemble the pieces of the puzzle, the Priory's secret - and a stunning historical truth - will be lost forever.

Although I'd started reading the book several times, I could not get into it initially. This time, however, it was different and I enjoyed the read. I know from various TV programmes that not everything described in the book is true, but the story has been developed in a way that it does sound feasible. I also liked the fact that Langdon is not the typical hero of a mystery story and shows many flaws in his characters. The one aspect I didn't like about the story was the fact that there seemed to be some tension between Neveu and Langdon, which given the circumstances of their meeting is not logical and feasible at all.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Jodi Picoult: Second glance

When a plot of land is being developed in Vermont against the will of a local Native American tribe, strange things begin to happen - and Ross Wakeman, a paranormal investigator, is asked to get involved. He's a desperate drifter who's taken up ghost hunting in an effort to cross paths again with his fiancee, who died in a car crash eight years ago, but he has yet to experience anything even remotely paranormal. Then Ross meets Lia. As a seventy-year-old murder case is reopened, a shocking secret about a crime of passion long past is revealed.

The story about the paranormal activities would have been fantastic, had it been developed in greater detail. For my taste, there were too many characters that seemed interesting but then weren't important or important enough to be analysed in more details, as for example Az Thompson and Lucy. Also, the coincidences and relationship issues around Ross, Meredith, Eli and Shelby weren't feasible. A somewhat disappointing Picoult.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Douglas Hurd: Ten minutes to turn the devil

As an MP, Douglas Hurd would write a new short story every year during the summer Parliamentary recess. This collection comprises ten tales, including a moving account of a family in Bosnia (The Last Day of Summer), a caper about drugrunning off Florida (A Suitcase Between Friends), and a grimly realistic Ulster vignette (Fog of Peace). Each of these stories reflects the intelligent concerns of a politician engaged in, and committed to, both the everyday world of domestic matters and at the highest level.

The stories were interesting for their factual content and the political issues they covered. However, the short stories themselves as a genre were not well developed in my view and so I wasn't overly impressed with the writing.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Karen Joy Fowler: The Jane Austen Book Club

Six people – five women and a man – meet once a month in California’s Central Valley to discuss Jane Austen’s novels. They are ordinary people, neither happy nor unhappy, but each of them is wounded in different ways, they are all mixed up about their lives and relationships. Over the six months they meet, marriages are tested, affairs begin, unsuitable arrangements become suitable – under the guiding eye of Jane Austen a couple of them even fall in love…

The book reminded me rather a lot of Elizabeth Noble's "The Reading Group", which at times was rather irritating me. The members of the reading groups meet at the different houses each month to discuss one novel by Austen and eventually they get to know each other and the reader gets to know each member. I liked Jocelyn, Bernadette, Prudie, Grigg, Allegra and Sylvia as characters but found some of their stories too far-fetched. A nice and light-hearted read, though.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Gervase Phinn: All these lonely people

Even with a huge problem to worry about, Father McKenzie still manages to see the good in everyone. His job is made more difficult by his nosy housekeeper and the gossips from the shop down the road. Will they succeed in spoiling things, or will Father McKenzie’s advice win the day? This charming tale shows the ups and downs of everyday life in a truly heart-warming way.

Although the topic might seem that this could be a slow read, the story is fast-paced and fascinating. It was interesting to find out the people's stories and why they are all so lonely that they turn up in church. And in the afterword the author explains the inspiration for his story around Miss Eleanor Rigby, Father McKenzie and the lonely people.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Xinran: Miss Chopsticks

This is the uplifting story of three sisters who, like so many migrant workers in today's China, leave their peasant community to seek their fortune in the big city. The Li sisters don't have much education, but one thing has been drummed into them: their mother is a failure because she hasn't managed to produce a son, and they themselves only merit a number as a name.Women, their father tells them, are like chopsticks: utilitarian and easily broken. Men, on the other hand, are the strong rafters that hold up the roof of a house. Yet when circumstances lead the sisters to seek work in distant Nanjing, the shocking new urban environment opens their eyes. While Three contributes to the success of a small fast-food restaurant, Five and Six learn new talents at a health spa and a bookshop/tearoom. And when the money they earn starts arriving back at the village, their father is forced to recognise that daughters are not so dispensable after all. Xinran has become known for her wonderful ability to take readers to the heart of Chinese society.

This is a lovely story with fairy-tale quality and lots of humour. Although Three, Five and Six come from the same family they are very different, yet in their own ways they are all successful. Surprisingly, perhaps, it is Five who is usually considered as "dumb and no-brains" that seems to have learnt best how to cope in the city and how to flourish despite the lack of education she experienced in her home village. However, this book also gives a great insight into Chinese culture and how China is now opening up to the Western world and in many ways seems trapped between ancient traditions and modernity.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Lyn Andrews: A mother's love

Eve and Eddie Dobson have been running the George pub in Liverpool for over twenty years. Now the Depression is taking hold and, with money in short supply, life becomes more difficult for the family, but at least their three daughters have never been a worry. Lily dreams of going on the stage, Sarah seems content to slog away as a waitress and Maggie's gently directing her devoted boyfriend to the altar. But when Eddie's flirtation with the hired help takes an unexpected turn, everything changes, leaving none of Eve's family untouched and calling on all the strength of a mother's love.

This is an intriguing story about the roles and responsibilities of different family members showing how the action of just one family member can cause the entire family to change and be uprooted. The characters are well-developed, believable and mostly likeable. Most of all, however, it was great that the story does not end in a total happy-end, although Lily's dramatic situation seemed a bit too far-fetched at the time. I did, however, enjoy reading about the life in a period, where there were no mobile phones or computers, and not even any cars....

Saturday, 2 January 2010

G. Schilddorfer und David Weiss: Ewig

Das Geheimnis der Kaiser - eine blutige Spur - ein uralter Code - ihn zu lösen, bringt den Tod!
Umgeben von brennenden Kerzen, die ein geheimnisvolles Symbol darstellen, liegt der Tote. Der brutale Mord in der Wiener Ruprechtskirche ruft Journalist Paul Wagner und Wissenschaftler Georg Sina auf den Plan. Sie sind einer mysteriösen Mordserie auf der Spur, die vor Jahrhunderten begann. Bald müssen Sina und Wagner selbst vor einem gnadenlosen Killer fliehen - und sie entdecken, was auf dem Spiel steht: die Zukunft der Menschheit!

Die Geschichte von Sina, Wagner und Berner, die dem Geheimnis des Friedrich III. und des ersten chinesischen Kaisers auf der Spur sind und dabei auch noch rätselhafte Morde zu klären haben, ist nicht nur mitreißend, sondern auch informativ. Die Autoren verbinden Fakt mit Fiktion in einer solchen Leichtigkeit, dass der Leser Lust verspürt sich selbst auf die Suche nach dem Geheimnis der Kaiser zu machen. Einzig Major Valerie Goldman und die damit verbundene, angedeutete, mögliche Liebesbeziehung zu Georg und/oder Paul und die Geschichte ihres Großvaters trüben das Lesevergnügen. Ansonsten ein Buch zum Immerwiederlesen....