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chesilbeach

Claire's book list 2011

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After reading the first Wilma Tenderfoot book by Emma Kennedy a couple of months ago, I knew I would be reading the whole series! Wilma Tenderfoot and the Case of the Putrid Poison is the second book, and as entertaining as the first, with all the favourite characters returning and some knew ones thrown in, a fabulous murder mystery for kids to enjoy, and the development of Wilma's own mysterious back story coming on a treat. Another absolute joy to read! I'm doing well at the moment! ;)

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Seagulls In The Attic by Tessa Hainsworth is the follow up to her first memoir Up With The Larks, which I read earlier this year. In the first book, Tessa and her family move to Cornwall, and she told the story of her first year as a postwoman. This second installment continues the story of her new life in the West Country. Some old characters, some new, another gentle memoir of adapting to life in a new place, with the customs and dialect to adjust to and the sometimes strange position of being both a local and an outsider at the same time. Humourous and warm, and if you like this type of memoir along the lines of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, I'm sure you'll like these too.

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I read The Dolce Vita Diaries by Cathy Rogers over the space of a couple of months, as I couldn't really settle to it each time I'd read a chapter. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it, but it was definitely suited to piecemeal reading! Cathy Rogers is a television presenter turned producer (some people may know her as the original co-presenter of Scrapheap Challenge) and along with her husband they decided that they'd had enough of Los Angeles and decided to move to Italy to run their own olive farm. The USP for their business is that you don't just buy their olive oil, but you sponsor a tree, and then receive oil that has been pressed from the olives from your tree.

 

The book is well written and interesting, but what makes it stand out for me were the recipes at the end of each chapters, with some notes on where the inspiration for using the recipes or a little anecdote about making them, but most pleasingly for me, they were mostly vegetarian recipes! I can't deny my mouth was watering at the end of each chapter, and I will definitely be trying some of them.

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Witch Child by Celia Rees was an impulse purchase from the Kindle sale for 99p a little while back, and had no expectations of it at all. In fact, I'm not sure I even read the synopsis properly before I bought it, so I really had little idea what it was about.

 

The story starts by someone in modern times who has found the pages of a diary sewn into a quilt and has pieced back together the original journal. The book tells the story of seventeenth century teenager Mary, who we meet when she is forced to leave her home town to avoid the fate that has befallen her grandmother - execution for witchcraft. She escapes the English countryside with the assistance of a stranger who knows more about her than she at first realises, and who helps her find passage on a boat to America with the hope that she may be able to leave behind the past and start a new life.

 

Through the eyes of a young woman who has much to hide, the story is a compelling read where religious fervour, suspicious neighbours and jealous peers play their part in the destiny of Mary, with an unease at the beginning building to a much more palpable sense of tension and drama at the conclusion.

 

I became absolutely immersed in the story, and thought it was an absolutely engrossing read.

Edited by chesilbeach

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The Forgotten Affairs Of Youth by Alexander McCall Smith is the latest of his Isabel Dalhousie books. The books follow Isabel, the owner and editor of an academic journal on ethics, with each book solving a mystery that Isabel finds herself involved in. The mysteries are usually actually more social quandaries rather than crimes, and have some moral dilemmas involved, so less Whodunnit's and more "I wonder who could have done that and why?". This latest book sees her helping a visiting academic search for her birth father, after being adopted as a baby and brought up in Australia.

 

They're very easy to read, but because to much of it is focused on how Isabel thinks through the implications of her actions and those of others, I find them utterly engrossing and thought provoking, but all done with a very light touch, a warmth for characters and a loving eye for the setting of Edinburgh. One of my favourite series to look forward to each new book, and whenever I get to the last page of each book, I let out an audible, contented sigh. :smile2:

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Another Alexander McCall Smith book next, this time the latest in his 44 Scotland Street series, Bertie Plays The Blues. This series are the book version of the daily serial he writes in a newspaper, the first starting off as an experiment based on a way of writing that Dickens used to employ. The books have a Dickensian feel, in that they are set around the society of a city, Edinburgh, and originally using the inhabitants of a single building made up of flats gradually including some of the people who have been introduced by their associations with the residents, and looking at their daily lives.

 

Due to the nature of how the story is originally written, you get a very uniform nature to the writing, with four page chapters, a few chapters about one particular character or family, and a sort of soap opera feel to the narrative. Like his other books, I find McCall Smith has a warmth for his characters and the city of Edinburgh, and while there is nothing challenging or controversial in this soap opera, there is plenty of tales of the ordinary lives of families today. In fact, it is mostly seen through rose-coloured tinted glasses, as there is no talk of money worries, everyone lives comfortably, there are no elements of social disorder or evidence of any crimes, and everyone is healthy and generally happy.

 

For me, this was another chapter in the lives of the inhabitants of Scotland Street, and as always, was charming with a gentle thread of humour running throughout the story. One of my indulgences for escaping from the realities of life! :smile2:

Edited by chesilbeach

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I've just finished The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds. The book centres around the home of Dr Matthew Allen which is an asylum for patients who have mental health illnesses, including the notable poet John Clare and the brother of Alfred Tennyson. The story is told from a variety of view points, from the doctor himself, to one of his daughters Hannah (who yearns to move away from the unusual family home and live in a normal household), and John Clare and other patients.

 

This is one of my book group reads for next month, and I freely admit that I don't understand poetry and rarely even attempt to read it, so I was a bit concerned as the description of the book on the inside cover, indicates that the story is about John Clare. Fortunately, there is much more complexity to the narrative, with the various viewpoints bringing a more complete picture of a particular time and place in history. There are some fantastic sections about nature where Clare's character relives memories from his childhood or describes the impact of the outdoors on himself, and I loved Hannah's voice, a young woman stepping outside of the constraints of Victorian society and etiquette, in her desperation to escape to a different life for herself.

 

One particular technique I thought was lovely was how, towards the end of the book, for a couple of the characters, the author writes a little piece within their narrative about what will happen to that person later in their life, without giving away what is still yet to come in this book for them, and it was just a lovely little touch to give an insight into the lives of these real life people.

 

If I had one minor complaint about it, I would say that I would loved to have had more about Tennyson in it. His first encounters with Hannah piqued my interest in him as a character, but it felt as though he was almost only there as a device for her development and the storyline around the investment didn't really seem convincing.

 

I thought the quality of the writing was beautiful, and as I think about it now, as times it was sparse and had a brevity about it, but some of the voices are deep and sumptuous as well, and overall, I really enjoyed reading it.

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I've just finished The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds. The book centres around the home of Dr Matthew Allen which is an asylum for patients who have mental health illnesses, including the notable poet John Clare and the brother of Alfred Tennyson. The story is told from a variety of view points, from the doctor himself, to one of his daughters Hannah (who yearns to move away from the unusual family home and live in a normal household), and John Clare and other patients.

 

This is one of my book group reads for next month, and I freely admit that I don't understand poetry and rarely even attempt to read it, so I was a bit concerned as the description of the book on the inside cover, indicates that the story is about John Clare. Fortunately, there is much more complexity to the narrative, with the various viewpoints bringing a more complete picture of a particular time and place in history. There are some fantastic sections about nature where Clare's character relives memories from his childhood or describes the impact of the outdoors on himself, and I loved Hannah's voice, a young woman stepping outside of the constraints of Victorian society and etiquette, in her desperation to escape to a different life for herself.

 

One particular technique I thought was lovely was how, towards the end of the book, for a couple of the characters, the author writes a little piece within their narrative about what will happen to that person later in their life, without giving away what is still yet to come in this book for them, and it was just a lovely little touch to give an insight into the lives of these real life people.

 

If I had one minor complaint about it, I would say that I would loved to have had more about Tennyson in it. His first encounters with Hannah piqued my interest in him as a character, but it felt as though he was almost only there as a device for her development and the storyline around the investment didn't really seem convincing.

 

I thought the quality of the writing was beautiful, and as I think about it now, as times it was sparse and had a brevity about it, but some of the voices are deep and sumptuous as well, and overall, I really enjoyed reading it.

 

Brilliant Claire, I just realised I have a copy of 'The Quickening Maze' :)

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I really enjoyed Saci Lloyd's Carbon Diaries YA books so I was very interested to read her latest called Momentum. Like the Carbon Diaries books, this one is sent in the near future in a London society dramatically changed by an energy crisis of epic proportions causing wars around the world, and an army of Kossak soldiers maintaining order on the streets, while keeping the Outsiders in check. The hero of the book, Hunter, is the son of a Citizen - the privileged class, who had a secret and dangerous hobby, free running. When he witnesses the Kossaks in action, he comes into contact with Outsider Uma and soon realises that there is a price to pay for privilege and the secrets hidden from the Citizens and is drawn into an even more terrifying world than he could ever imagine to fight for what he believes is right.

 

I loved this book, it was exciting, thrilling and thought provoking, and I love that Lloyd writes challenging books that have interesting characters and a thrilling story, but that will hopefully engage teenagers to think about energy consumption without preaching to them.

 

Great review, Claire! I still have the Carbon Diaries on my TBR pile from your previous recommendations, and this one will have to be added to my wish list. :)

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The State of Me by Nasim Marie Jafry is about a young woman who contracts a mystery illness in the 1980s while studying for her Masters degree. At first the doctors are baffled, but eventually Helen is diagnosed with ME. The story follows her as she has to drop out of university and move back home so her mum and stepdad can look after her, and the affect it has on her friendships and relationships over the next fifteen or so years of her life.

 

This was a very interesting book to read, but I have to be honest, it felt a bit muddled. I think the author tried too hard to combine too many themes to make it successful as a novel. Essentially, it follows Helen's life, but on top of that, it's sort of a history of the research into ME as an "official" illness, but it also looks at the public perception, media coverage and governmental acceptance of it.

 

The author is herself an ME sufferer, but the similarities of her own biography to the story of her main character mean this reads more like a fictionalised memoir rather than a genuine novel. It feels more natural to read it as a memoir, but then some of the devices she uses to get across certain points feel a bit shoe-horned in to the narrative. For example, there is an ongoing conversation with a "stranger" that crops up at various points during the story. It's meant to symbolise the common questions and misconceptions the stranger in the street has, and how Helen answers those questions, and it often shows the sense of frustration that a sufferer must feel at both the unending symptoms of the illness and at having to defend themselves against the ignorance of most people about ME. Unfortunately, at times, it feels like an intrusion into the story, in order to make a point. The same could be said about the way some of the facts about the illness are introduced.

 

I would certainly recommend reading the book, but with reservations. It is a very good way to begin to understand what day to day life is like for someone who suffers from ME, but you have to understand that you will at times be bombarded with information about clinical trials, landmarks in the history of ME, and some information about the scientific research.

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Something Borrowed by Paul Magrs is the second of his books about Brenda and Effie, two elderly Whitby friends, who late in life, have started investigating mysterious goings on in the seaside resort. This time it's poison pen letters and a blast from Brenda's past, and I think I enjoyed this more than the first book, because it was a single continuous story, although it had a few different plotlines weaving in and out, they all seemed to continue in parallel, whereas the first book was more a collection of short stories drawn together to make up the full book.

 

I love that the two heroines aren't cute, young girls, but crabby, older women, and I love how we're getting more of Brenda's back story. Great fun, quirky with thrills and spills, and a cracking good read.

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Something Borrowed by Paul Magrs is the second of his books about Brenda and Effie, two elderly Whitby friends, who late in life, have started investigating mysterious goings on in the seaside resort. This time it's poison pen letters and a blast from Brenda's past, and I think I enjoyed this more than the first book, because it was a single continuous story, although it had a few different plotlines weaving in and out, they all seemed to continue in parallel, whereas the first book was more a collection of short stories drawn together to make up the full book.

 

I love that the two heroines aren't cute, young girls, but crabby, older women, and I love how we're getting more of Brenda's back story. Great fun, quirky with thrills and spills, and a cracking good read.

 

 

They are excellent aren't they I think there are 4 or 5 in the series I know I have read them all the last one earlier this year its somewhere on my list. They did and excellent adaptation on the radio as well I listen on 4extra earlier this year as well.

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The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies is set in Snowdonia towards the end of the second world war. Esther is the seventeen year old daughter of a shepherd (and staunch Welsh patriot), who works in the local pub and serves the English men who have been posted locally to convert a former holiday camp into a POW camp for captured German soldiers. Karsten is a German soldier sent to the camp, who surrendered on behalf of himself and his wounded colleagues but struggles with the doubt that this was actually an act of cowardice.

 

I thought this was a very good read, and interesting to read a WW2 book set in Wales, with a fascinating look at how the strong nationalistic Welsh community struggled with their own deep seated dislike of the English, yet having to accept they bought much needed boost to the local economy. It was also interesting to read of the world of a POW camp on British soil, especially from the point of view of a German soldier.

 

And yet, despite the war setting, this is essentially a very human story with Esther and Karsten's very different stories becoming intertwined when he is moved to the POW camp in her village. It looks at the conflicts that people meet when they realise that their supposed enemy is another human being, whether that is the relationship between two opposing nations or between an evacuee and a POW.

 

I really enjoyed this story, and I was especially pleased by the ending which

didn't go for a romanticised conclusion to Esther's story.

 

Edited by chesilbeach

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At the beginning of Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean by Justin Somper, it's the year is 2505 and we're on the East Coast of Australia, and we find twins Grace and Connor living in a lighthouse with their widowed father, but their happy family life is shattered when their father dies and they find themselves without a home. In order to escape what the townspeople think is best for them, they take their fathers boat to sea, but when they are caught in a storm and their boat wrecked, the two become separated but rescued by two different and very dangerous ships, neither knowing if the other is alive.

 

I loved this book. I think it's probably aimed at the younger teenager, and it's a swash-buckling, thigh-slapping, rip-snorter of an adventure! Pirates and vampires sailing on the high seas and the quest of a brother and sister to find each other, what more could you want?

 

It's the first book in a series, and the only query I have about it is why the year is 2505? There doesn't seem to be any reference to the period, and nothing seems different from the modern day, only that the ships and pirates seem to have come out of the past. I'm obviously going to be reading the next book in the series, and I wonder if it will become apparent later in the story as to why we need to be five hundred years in the future.

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I finally decided to read Forever by Maggie Stiefvater. It's the final book in the Mercy Falls trilogy, following the outstanding Shiver and its follow up Linger, and I'd been putting it off, as I was worried that it wouldn't provide a suitable ending to what has been a good trilogy. I did love reading it, and I loved how she ended the series, but I never felt that either this or Linger quite matched the emotion and the melancholy or evoked the amazing sense of place that Shiver did.

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Although I've been trying to reduce my dependence on urban fantasy books, I've been enjoying Kim Harrison's Rachel Morgan series, and I recently read the fourth book, A Fistful of Charms. Rachel is on a mission to save Jenks's son Jax, whose become caught up in one of the latest dodgy deals of her ex-boyfriend, Nick. Using some demon magic, Rachel and Jenks high tail it out of Cincinnati and ends up in the middle of a battle for an ancient artefact that threatens the whole balance of the supernatural and human world.

 

I really enjoy my forays into the supernatural, and although I don't think Kim Harrison is the best author in this genre, I do enjoy Rachel's adventures. Ivy and Jenks come to the fore in this book, and even though I'm no fan of Nick, I enjoyed this installment, and have the next one lined up to read in a few books time.

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I've been checking out the Kindle Daily Deals in the hope that some of the books on my wishlist would appear, and lo and behold, along came Agatha Raisin: As The Pig Turns by M. C. Beaton. I don't generally like crime, murder and mystery books, but if they're comic or have an unusual slant, I'm prepared to give them a go, and that was how I found the comic gems that are the Agatha Raisin mysteries. In this latest addition to the series, Agatha decides to go to the pig roast in a neighbouring village with her old advertising friend Roy, her young detective protegée, Toni and Toni's new boyfriend. But just as the pig is about to be placed on the spit, Agatha notices that all is not as it seems, and the pig on the roast is a mans body with a pigs head sown on!

 

Pure fun, the crotchety and often politically incorrect Agatha finds herself right in the middle of the investigation, with the usual range of twists and turns, favourite characters returning to the fold, and a grisly murder at the heart of the story, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and chuckled along with it all the way. :smile2:

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The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw was another bargain on the Kindle bookstore, at just 99p it was a snip, as I'd heard some good things about it. A young woman, Ida McLaird has a mystery illness and her feet have turned to glass. Going back to the island archipelago where she believes she first contracted the disease, she has a chance encounter with an old man, who she later realises may hold the key to the cure, and on her search, she meets Midas, a young man with a troubled background and the pair gradually fall in love as they look for a way to stop the spread of the glass through Ida's body.

 

This book has so much going for it, the writing is beautiful, the description of the landscape and life of the islanders is evocative, and the relationship between Ida and Midas is touching and believable. Which is why I find it even more curious as to why I didn't find it a very compelling read. It held all the elements that should have made it a page turner, and wormed its way into my consciousness, but each time I read a little more, and after a few chapters felt the need to put it down again, as it never quite gripped my imagination. I did enjoy it, and thought it was a very clever and intriguing idea, but for some reason it just didn't grab me.

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I have to admit, I didn't fancy either of the books for my library reading group this month, but thought I ought to read at least one of them so that I had something to talk about in our meeting, so decided to give The Mao Case by Qiu Xiaolong a go. Straight crime fiction is not really my cup of tea, and I have to say I found this particular example quite slow and dull. Even though it's only 290 pages long, it's taken me 5 days to read it. I thought the dialogue was stilted and formal - it reminded me of how people speaking a foreign language sound to native speakers of that language, there's no slang or dialect, everything is very correct but feels slightly wrong. I wonder if this is because the author is Chinese and now resident in the US and writing in English, although the rest of the writing of the narrative and description is fine, it's just the dialogue. There is also an awful lot of reference to and quoting of poetry, which while it was a necessary thread of the plot, I felt it was overused, and at times, interrupted the flow of the story. I did finish it, but it was a struggle to keep going through most of it, and I felt the conclusion was rushed, I was irritated by the treatment of one of the characters, and it left too many things unresolved for me.

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The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw was another bargain on the Kindle bookstore, at just 99p it was a snip, as I'd heard some good things about it. A young woman, Ida McLaird has a mystery illness and her feet have turned to glass. Going back to the island archipelago where she believes she first contracted the disease, she has a chance encounter with an old man, who she later realises may hold the key to the cure, and on her search, she meets Midas, a young man with a troubled background and the pair gradually fall in love as they look for a way to stop the spread of the glass through Ida's body.

 

This book has so much going for it, the writing is beautiful, the description of the landscape and life of the islanders is evocative, and the relationship between Ida and Midas is touching and believable. Which is why I find it even more curious as to why I didn't find it a very compelling read. It held all the elements that should have made it a page turner, and wormed its way into my consciousness, but each time I read a little more, and after a few chapters felt the need to put it down again, as it never quite gripped my imagination. I did enjoy it, and thought it was a very clever and intriguing idea, but for some reason it just didn't grab me.

 

Great review Claire, I enjoyed 'The Girl With Glass Feet', it was such a love book but I know what you mean about how it did not grab you, I felt the same :)

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I have read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter for the reading circle, but I'm not going to review it here as I'll save it for the discussion in January. I would just say that I loved it, and I will definitely be looking out for more of her books now, particularly the short story collections.

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I didn't realise until I was about to buy it, that Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons was actually a collection of short stories. I've become a fan of short story collections in recent years, so it was a delight to find a collection by Gibbons, as I loved Cold Comfort Farm when I read it a few years ago, and have been wanted to read more of her work, so to match up the author and the short story was a festive bonus.

 

Although the first story and the title story are both based around the Christmas holiday, the rest of the collection aren't, however they all have a theme of love, whether it's finding a new love, rekindling an old love, unexpected love or unrequited love, and all set in the homes and lives of the middle classes in the period between the wars.

 

Each story seems to have a recurring theme of a person (usually a woman) who appears to be a stereotype of a "certain type", with their assigned role in society, but each one of them shows a strength of character to show the depth of themselves as an individual. Considering the period in which the stories are written, it was a delight to read of women who were strong and independent, and who had careers as well as wives and mothers, and interesting to look at how even in the 1930s, there was an ongoing dialogue about whether women could have both careers and families, and the balance within their lives.

 

Gibbons style of writing is very easy to read, with the flavour of writing of that period (the book was originally published in 1940), and has warmth and wit running through it, and I absolutely loved it. I will definitely be coming back to read more of her work.

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