January 25, 2014

Book Review - The Chess Men by Peter May

This is the third in the Island of Lewis books by Peter May and I found it as compelling as the first two. The islands are bleak and living conditions are harsh but some can still find the music and some can still find the terror. We learn more about Fin's past as the story here emerges from his university days. I loved it but needed to read something happy and light afterwards. Wendy

January 24, 2014

Book Review - What to Knit When You're Expecting by Nikki Van De Car

A lovely collection of baby knits. I think I may be going to try out the sleeping bag and matching hat and perhaps the stripey jumper for the little ones in my life. Luxurious yarns and livable designs although I think they are perhaps having a colder climate than ours in mind. Wendy

January 22, 2014

Book Review - The Boy in the Snow by M.J. McGrath

This one is set in Alaska and involves the native peoples of the Arctic Circle, crooked politicians, land deals, religious cults and people trafficking. The Alaskan countryside is breath taking and described in the main by Edie Kiglatuk, a Canadian who is in Alaska to help her ex-husband take part in the Iditarod Dog Sled race. She finds a dead baby and is drawn into investigating the baby's death. Even though Edie lives in the Arctic realm of Canada, the Alaskan countryside is very different but it still retains an awesome spirituality and Edie can find common ground with the native peoples of this land. This took a little while to warm up for me as the culture and daily living tasks are so different from our warm soft land but it turned out to be a very satisfying mystery. Wendy

January 20, 2014

Book Review - Gun Machine by Warren Ellis

This is a very modern mystery full of cynicism, swearing and guns. A few of New York's finest misfits get together to solve the puzzle of the room full of guns accidentally discovered during a violent incident, when Detective John Tallow's partner is killed. Mixing humour with history, erudition with poor housekeeping, and keeping on with the task when it's obvious that powerful people want them to stop, John and his mates use science and intuition in their hunt for this invisible killer. The author began his writing career in graphic novels but I'm very glad he's switched over to the dark side of words only! Wendy

Book Review - The Girl in the Hard Hat by Loretta Hill

The author has worked on outback engineering projects and has used that experience to set her story in a coal loading wharf in the remote Western Australian coast. Having found out she was not the child of her father, Wendy is on a mission to find out who her father really is, and she is in no mood for romance. She meets Gavin, a supervisor at the wharf, who has his own issues with commitment as he is trying to avoid his past catching up with him. Sparks fly and the two try to ignore their growing attraction. The story is well structured and the supporting cast well drawn. Gavin and Wendy have to overcome a cyclone before they sort out how to be together. It was good learn a little more about Australia, in an area where very few get to live and work. Wendy

January 17, 2014

Book Review - Op Shop Chic by Rosie Lyons

Another crafty treat. Ideas for bags made out of tea towels, fruit bowls out of LPs, tea cosies out of old kilts and much more. Lovely to browse through and think about pretty things you could make, and some of them are even useful as well! I think my favourite idea was the child's pinafore out of a cut down man's shirt. A little bias binding and you're done! Wendy

January 16, 2014

Book Review - Giant's Bread, Unfinished Portrait and Absent in the Spring - The Mary Westmacott Collection by Agatha Christie

These are very interesting stories. They have been called romances but they are more studies of families and relationships with the author placing quite a few characters under the microscope. I found them intriguing having read the Christie mysteries for many years, to see how she handled these stories, originally published under the name of Westmacott in the 30s & 40s. Apart from a dated and prejudicial portrait of some Jewish characters that simply would not happen now, she is a master of the upper middle class English family, wrestling with romances, finances, creative impulses, parenting and growing up. I particularly liked the story of a woman who is forced by transport difficulties to stay in a remote location for several days, with no entertainment, and is forced to reflect on her own life…. Will she make changes as a result of this time to think? This book is quite thick but very readable and includes a foreword by the author's daughter. Wendy

January 14, 2014

Book Review - Crowner's Crusade by Bernard Knight

This is a 'prequel' to a series I haven't read, of mysteries set in the time of Richard I of England. Sir John de Wolfe and his faithful sidekick, solve mysteries whilst upholding the King and thwarting the wily Prince John. This book can't quite decide what it wants to be and appears to be aimed at existing fans but there is much to like. The first part is all action travelogue, as Sir John and assorted companions accompany the Lionheart back from the Holy Land until he is captured. The second part sees him at home and starting on his career as the King's Crowner or Coroner solving murders and other mysteries. Packed full of authentic details about travel and living arrangements in the period, it is an interesting read for the social history alone. Wendy

January 13, 2014

Book Review - No! I Don't Want Reading Glasses by Virginia Ironside

In this follow-up to "No! I Don't Want to join a Book Club" our fearless heroine is now older and sadly wiser but still sharp as a tack and very funny. Her beloved Archie is facing declining health with decisions to be made about his care. Her son and his family relocate to the US and she has an entertaining visit to see them, after she gets through airport security with her terrorist weapons aka knitting needles. Troubles abound but so do friends and happy times. I still laughed out loud after having had to endure hearing my husband read the book first, laugh a lot and read me the good bits. Get it first in your family! Wendy

January 12, 2014

Book Review - Christmas in Cornwall by Marcia Willett

This is a delicious book. It is gentle and perfectly placed in its environment – the Cornish coast. A fading community of nuns and their surrounding friends ponder their future over a twelve month period. Several characters find the landscape affecting their decision-making. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Cornwall in this book. " Out on the cliff Janna wanders in the golden blowy air…. The mallows and the thrift have finished flowering but pale pink convolvuli climb amongst the granite stone, and there are bright red poppies growing amongst the rain-drenched barley on the wide headlands. The great gull-spaces of clear blue sky are empty but she can see the flocks wheeling down low over the sea: shining white against the bright green, then black against the brilliant dazzling surf. If she were to lie on the grass with her ear to the ground she would hear the booming echoes of the sea-tide surging and retreating in the secret hollow chambers far below. Dossie walks at night….and stands looking out across the pale-cut stubble of the new-cut fields. One small star us tangled in a long fleece of cloud and she can see a ghostly illumination running like pale fire along the black curve of the distant horizon. The moon's bright curved rim appears above the long low hills and it seems as if she can feel the movement of the earth as it tilts towards it. Holding her breath, she watches as the moon rises: full and mysterious and magical. The deep silence is broken only by the querulous cry of an old ewe, the settling and stuttering of small birds in the hedges and two owls calling. Father Pascal passes down the steep cobbled lane between granite, herringbone garden walls and cottages, armour-plated against the weather with grey slates. Hydrangeas – wine-red mopheads and delicate creamy lace-caps – still flower in small sheltered gardens, along with the hardy fuchsias, scarlet and pink. Overhead, the wild warm wind whirls the fine wrought-iron weathercocks dizzily perched on stone chimneys, and flees down narrow alleyways with ginger and golden leaves scurrying before it. Out at sea, … a white sail slices across the choppy water, sharp and fast as a shark's fin." Wendy

January 11, 2014

Book Review - Babylon by Camilla Ceder

More Scandinavian mystery fiction. A respected academic is murdered with her student lover. The police must sift through a large cast of potential murderers including her ex-husband, the student's jealous partner and two thieves after ancient antiquities. Inspector Christian Tell must settle his own heart whilst solving the case and dealing with a new boss. International trade in stolen artefacts provides a well researched backdrop for this very good mystery. I'm still in love with the Scandinavians! I was interested to see a quote from Melanie Klein in the forepapers. I must admit I had assumed that Alexander McCall smith had made her up (see his Scotland St series) --- I should have known better! Wendy

January 10, 2014

Book Review - Bones Are forever by Kathy Reichs

If you regularly read or watch crime fiction, you will already know of Kathy Reichs and the books on which the TV series Bones are based. This investigation into the series of newborn infant deaths, sends Temperance Brennan into Canada's far north where towns dependant on mining are struggling to survive, as are their inhabitants. The story twists and turns and she does a little too much independent investigating for her own good, but this is an excellent mystery in the hands of a master storyteller. Wendy

January 09, 2014

Book Review - Buddhaland in Brooklyn by Richard C. Morais

This is a gentle and funny clash of culture novel . Reverend Oda has been a Buddhist monk from childhood and has made a life in rural Japan with art and nature his constant companions in his predominantly solitary meditations. A change in the leadership of his monastery coincides with the expansion of their particular form of Buddhism into America and he finds himself in New York, thrust pell mell into a group of enthusiastic but ill-trained and ill-informed converts. A major supporter has been running lessons from Buddhism for Dummies and they don't show proper respect for the priest. Oda has to disentangle his religious beliefs from his established cultural practices and seek his own as well as his congregation's enlightenment. He also manages to find the joy in New York's noisy and crowded environment. This was a thorough delight. Wendy

Book Review - Any Dream Will Do by Maria Duffy

Fiction Jenny Breslin has made a few very good friends on Twitter and has perhaps gilded the lily when describing her life to them. One night when drunk, she invites them all to come for a weekend. This sets her up to find that whilst none of them have exactly told the truth, their basic qualities confirm their friendship. It's too true that we can always learn a little more about ourselves when we open up to others. An Irish chicklit serving – light with a firm foundation and a happy ending. Wendy

January 08, 2014

Book Review - Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt

"It was so early not even the devil had managed to put on his shoes. In the west, the heavens showed that intense hue only a Scandinavian sky in springtime is blessed with – royal blue on the horizon and lighter towards the meridian, before dissolving into a pink eiderdown where the sun was still lying lazily in the east. The air was invigorating, undisturbed by the dawn, with that amazing transparency possessed by radiant spring mornings at almost sixty degrees north." Inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen finds that her days do not live up to the spring promise as she is increasingly bogged down in too many cases and not enough leads to solve them. A girl is raped and her father seeks revenge, can the police solve the crime before he does? This is the second Hanne Wilhelmsen story and it is a shorter book than most contemporary crime fiction but continues the promise of the first one, with gritty characters and good plotting. Wendy

January 07, 2014

Book Review - Queen of the road by Tricia Stringer

This is a rural romance with a twist – the heroine drives a long haul truck. Angela needs a change and the sleepy country town in South Australia's Eyre Peninsula is a place to escape to. She takes a temporary job driving for her father's transport company. She meets Coop, a farm hand with a knack for dealing with her 4 year old daughter but she has had trouble with men and isn't sure she is ready to trust him, even if her heart tells her to. Coop has always been reluctant to settle down until now due to a troubled childhood. Throw in a clever and lovable working dog, trouble with a rival transport firm and some issues with the farm's neighbours and you have a pleasantly readable Aussie story. Wendy

January 05, 2014

Book Review - The Virgin Cure by Ani McKay

Set in New York in the 1870s, the author set out to write a novel that would memorialize her ancestor, a woman doctor who worked among the poor of New York at that time. When she came to write it however, the strongest voice belonged to the character of Moth, a poor girl who is sold to a brothel at age 12 to be schooled in the ways of elegant prostitution. Poor girls would probably lose their virginity sooner or later and the best they could do was choose the circumstances. It was also a time when men could buy guides to all the houses of pleasure and it was erroneously believed by many that having sex with a virgin could cure you of syphilis. That said, it doesn't really have much to do with Moth's story and the title is rather more PR than reflective of the book's contents. The narrative is well researched, however, we spend an awful lot of time getting ready and learning how to walk and talk. It is really almost a boarding school novel except for the last small part. The searing poverty is everpresent and the lady doctor's ethical dilemmas are well explained but I'm not sure that the topic has been given justice in this novel. Wendy

January 04, 2014

Book Review - Delicacy by David Foenkinos

This is a beautiful and delightful book. Strange things are written but when you read them they have the refreshing clarity of a mountain stream and they are so ineffably right that you couldn't imagine how the author could have said them any other way. Natalie is happily married to Francoise but he dies in an accident and she must go on. She must decide what to do with the book where the bookmark delineates when her husband died. Can you just go on reading a book that is separated into the part you read before your beloved husband died and the part that comes after? She survives in a numb state but gradually goes back to work and comes back to life, where there are two very different men, Charles and Markus. This is her story but also their story and it is charming and true. I loved it. Wendy

January 02, 2014

Book Review - Valentine Grey by Sandi Toksvig

The author is familiar to ABC viewers from a variety of British TV shows but she is much more well known in the UK. This is a story of a girl who was brought up in India with a degree of physical freedom unheard of for Victorian young ladies, who is sent to live in London after the death of her father. In London, she must live with restrictions on clothing and behaviour that she finds intolerable. Meanwhile, her cousin Reggie, is finding true love with another man, which was illegal at that time. She conceives a mad idea to take Reggie's place as a volunteer n the Boer War. Both Valentine and Reggie get what they want – only to find it wasn't really what they expected. A readable, illuminating and well researched offering. Wendy