Friday, January 31, 2014

Pretty by Ahren Warner: one to avoid ...

Sadly, this is a pretty (ha!) much pretentious and shallow poetry collection, which is not as clever as it thinks it is. There are one or two moments of much needed grace where I thought a real poet might be emerging, but it never actually happened. One to avoid then. Sorry, Ahren.

Anne Brooke
Gay Reads UK
The Gathandrian Fantasy Trilogy

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: a curate's egg of a novel

Until this point, I've been a fan of Donna Tartt, purely because I absolutely loved her first novel The Secret History. I remained a fan even though I hated her second book The Little Friend and couldn't get beyond page 20. Well, now I've finally finished this, her latest novel, and quite honestly I don't think I'm a fan any longer.

At the beginning, however, I was hooked, because the writing is absolutely top-class and both literary and gripping. I couldn't get enough of Theo's childhood, and the description of the traumatic event which changes his whole life, and the fall-out from that is quite simply excellent. I couldn't at this point stop reading. I loved the story of his time with the Barbour family after the tragedy - and I have a special fondness for Mrs Barbour who's apparently so cold-hearted and yet does absolutely the right thing for Theo whenever the chips are down. She's a brilliant character and could definitely fill her own novel.

I also loved the sections where Theo's father comes to claim him, and he starts a new life with his rediscovered parent. It's a brilliant contrast to the middle-class lifestyle of the Barbours and excellently written.

Unfortunately, once Theo grows up, the novel starts, slowly and inexorably, to fall apart, to my mind. From being a fascinating and clear-sighted child, Theo becomes a really very dull and drugged-up adult and I lost interest in him entirely. Every detail of Theo's life - almost - is recorded here, and it's just not worth it. That said, I did like Hobie, the old man who takes Theo and gives him a trade, and I could have done with more of him.

There were even a couple of times when Tartt resorts to telling us rather than showing us some key scenes, which is really rather sloppy writing - though in a 700 page novel perhaps she too just couldn't bear the thought of making it any longer. For instance, Theo is deeply in love with Pippa, but the scene where she introduces him to her new live-in boyfriend is not seen directly, but Theo tells us about it afterwards - in very cliched terms. That's a missed opportunity for a bit of drama. And I could have done with a bit of interest at that point.

Towards the end, I began seriously to start skipping, even though several moments of great excitement do take place - for instance, an old friend turns up, there's an engagement party and even a shooting - but all this is so hidden in the dullness of Theo and his observations that it becomes meaningless. So, all in all, this book has fantastic start, but it needed the last third cut and a good bit of editing done to the remaining text to make this even half as good as Tartt's first novel. Oh well.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Green Butterfly Cakes

These are the first cakes I've baked since I've been ill, and the second batch of this year. It feels nice to be baking again. This time I ignored all the palaver in the recipe and just put everything in together all at once and mixed it all up. Seems to have worked okay.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah: enigmatic dissatisfaction

Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah (3.5 stars)

Sophie Hannah always writes a gripping novel and this book is no exception. The main character Amber is both strong-minded and very mysterious, and you quickly become entangled in her life and the oddities of what's going on. The first three-quarters of the story is frankly a tour-de-force in how to write psychological thrillers, and it's only in the latter stages that there are some mis-steps and events and attitudes that simply don't fit. It's almost as if the puzzle Hannah sets up so very well is quite simply so enigmatic that it's impossible to unravel, in a reasonable way.

I first began getting second thoughts about the book's perfection when Amber's foster daughters invent a childhood game which everyone seems strangely shocked about. The game - which ultimately explains the book's title - is depicted as being something so off-kilter and judgemental that the unfortunate girls must be punished for it - and are themselves oddly frightened about admitting it. Well, to me, the game seemed to be just a bit of fun and - even as adults - something we all do ourselves, if only secretly. Heck, I certainly do! Either this means I'm a judgemental psychotic with no human compassion (say nothing here, please ...), or Hannah is making a huge mountain out of a very, very tiny molehill. Oh well.

The other aspect of these books I'm getting irritated (and rather bored) with is the relationship between the two detectives, Simon and Charlie, who are now married to each other. It seems to be stuck in some kind of strange twisted rut and I'm beginning to find them a bit dull, and Simon is certainly becoming pompous, at the very least. They both seriously need to get over themselves, and, really, I found the other more normal detectives to be much more approachable and interesting. In the novel's latter stages, I tended to skip over the Simon/Charlie sections in order to get back to Amber or the other detectives.

Still, there's an excellent use of the hypnotherapist, Ginny, who grows in stature throughout the story - even though she didn't ever act like a professional therapist at any level. A fascinating character though. So, all in all, this book is a good read, especially the first three-quarters, but don't expect that the solution to the mystery will fully satisfy you.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Reviews post illness Part 2

Here is the second and final part of my book reviews post illness:

Divided Loyalties by Patricia Scanlan (4 stars)

You can always rely on Scanlan to write a balanced and enjoyable family saga, and this novel is no exception. The tale of two sisters, one brother and their various sets of relationships has more than enough meat to it to make the nearly 700 pages no chore to read at all. I also thought the difficulties of looking after an elderly parent - and whose responsibility it is - were well handled, and it had a nice resolution. Shauna was definitely my favourite sister, and her story was the most dramatic and the most gripping of the set. A good reliable read.

Before the Storm by Diane Chamberlain (4 stars)

This novel is very like Jodi Picoult - which is no problem for me at all - but much less tied up in the legal ramifications than Picoult sometimes gets. So this leaves far more quality time with the family, their relationships and how they cope with the disasters facing them. Not to mention the shifting sands of their internal dynamic - which is very well portrayed indeed. I can recommend it.

Set in Stone by Catherine Dunne (5 stars)

Ooh now, this book is a definite cut above the rest. Full of mystery, hidden secrets and very effective suspense, I just had to keep reading to find out if our heroine Lynda could unravel the mystery and save those she loved before it was too late. The gradual unfolding of the various crimes that may - or may not - have been committed is excellently done, and the ending is a masterclass in thriller writing. Great stuff.

The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller (5 stars)

Sue Miller is another thoroughly reliable author, and this novel held me gripped throughout. The developing relationship between the two sets of neighbours - one newly married and one secretly separated - is very good indeed. I  thought the portrait of a new marriage (the result of a whirlwind relationship) was simply top-notch, though I also enjoyed how the two women neighbours gradually take over the scenes. In essence, it becomes a novel about what women hide and what they reveal, and that's no bad thing. The powerful and bitter end is almost perfect - though I would have liked to have had another scene or two with the older woman neighbour as that would have rounded it off more effectively. Still, Miller is always quietly brilliant and I can recommend this one for sure.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult (4 stars)

This seems something of a departure for Picoult - focusing as it does on the horrors of war and how terrible experiences affect the families of those who come after. Sage Singer is a very strong character and beautifully placed as a vulnerable baker within her community. I enjoyed her story very much and would have preferred to have spent more time with her. However the bulk of the central sections focus on Sage's grandmother's experiences of war and her time in Auschwitz and how she survived. It's both horrific and absolutely perfectly written.

So in some ways it was a shock to be delivered back to Sage's story at the end - though it also makes sense as Sage is searching for clues about her grandmother's past, and for good reason. There is however a decision Sage makes at the very end which I felt was totally out of character for the woman I'd come to know - and which left me feeling very dissatisfied indeed. Without spoiling the plot of a book I can otherwise recommend, I'd say it would have been far more powerful and emotionally accurate if Sage's decision had actually been the opposite one, and this would also have more hopeful in terms of her developing relationship with the Nazi hunter. Still, it's a powerful read nonetheless.

Anne Brooke
Gay Reads UK
The Gathandrian Fantasy Trilogy

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Reviews post illness Part 1

I spent last week being quite sick, which wasn't at all pleasant in a lot of ways I have no intention of describing now. You'll be pleased to hear ... Thankfully I'm on a variety of pills from the doctor for the next three weeks so hope to be fully up and running (as it were) fairly soon.

Anyway, whilst not sleeping or eating, I got through a heck of a lot of books and so here are brief reviews of the first few of these:

Collecting by Miranda Wilson (5 stars)

This is a sharp and very quirky literary novel which is very accessible indeed. The main character, Walter, is charming and honest, and I loved the shifting shadows of his family relationships as depicted in the story. There's a nice linking of art, collecting and emotional displacement, and the ending is both surprising and powerful.

I Love Capri by Belinda Jones (4 stars)

This is my first Belinda Jones book and I thoroughly enjoyed the read. It's chick lit for grown-ups and great fun . It also deals with some very serious issues and uses a light touch to do so - which creates a nice sense of balance to the book. I enjoyed the changes Kim our heroine goes through, and the response she has to her life's challenges. I also liked the fact that it's not necessarily an obvious romance, and the ending is both powerful and realistic.

As an aside, I once met Belinda at a Writers' Conference many years back and she was an utter delight.

Amore and Amaretti by Victoria Cosford (4 stars)

I bought this book thinking it was a novel, but actually it's a biography of one woman's relationship with Italy, particularly its people and its food - and it's certainly a riveting read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The writing is sensuous and full of passion, as well as being very visual. I could see the villages and trattorias, and smell the glorious food as I was reading, I'm sure. Highly recommended.

Don't You Want Me? by India Knight (3 stars)

I didn't enjoy this one as much as the front cover puffs told me I would, but it was a light fun read, nonetheless. Not as wicked or as funny as it's made out to be but the romance is quite pleasant - though the mystery of who Stella ends up with is really no mystery at all. I could see it from page 1. All in all, charmingly forgettable.

A Night on The Orient Express by Veronica Henry (5 stars)

This is a wonderful read, filled with excellent and loveable characters and held together beautifully by the Orient Express train journey. One of the best modern romances I've read in a long time. I enjoyed all the different stories in the novel, and the way they came together, but my particular favourites were the elegant and glamorous older couple Riley and Sylvie. They were just brilliant. Very highly recommended indeed.

As another aside, I must also admit that I once met Ms Henry at the Writers' Conference mentioned above, and she wasn't particularly pleasant to me or the people I was with at the time. Sad to say. Rather on the dismissive side of dismissive, I thought (and we weren't even asking her anything either!). Still, personality clashes aside, I have to admit she can write, hey ho.

Anne Brooke
Gay Reads UK
The Gathandrian Fantasy Trilogy

Thursday, January 09, 2014

My first topiary ...

Today, my first topiary goose; tomorrow the world. Be afraid, be very afraid ...

The Gifting: "rare in quality, and a real treat to find ..."

Gosh. This is nice, thank you:

A 4-star review of gay-themed fantasy The Gifting at Amazon US - "Stories like this one are rare in quality, and a real treat to find. The concept is truly interesting and original; the setting is more like something out of a fable than traditional fantasy. Indeed, the story is often reminiscent of a fable, perhaps having some of the same ethereal qualities as Meredith Ann Pierce's 'The Dark Angel' ...":

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

New Year fiction sale!

There's a 40% discount on ALL my Amber Allure books throughout the WHOLE of January so stock up now for all your New Year reading! Happy New Year!