Settling the Score by Peter Gibbs
Paperback at 7.99
Paperback at 7.99
In 'Settling the Score', Peter gives us a similar character though only in a minor role. Here it is the three day game between an imaginary Derbyshire team and the home team, Warwickshire, which takes centre stage on the placid Edgbaston Ground. That and the rivalry between two brothers vying for a place in the England team. Not so placid however, are the antics of the members of the team after each day's play. Set in the late 60s, when an evening at a strip club or drinking to the early hours was more common for professional players than perhaps it is now, there are fights and disclosures that play a major part in the field of play.
Peter pours all his knowledge of the game into this rare work (for there are few pieces of fiction in the cricket world) and the result is an engrossing novel based on a nail biting cricket match, determined by the off field events and revelations as much as the action on the field itself. The plot seamlessly joins the events on field and off and those who have played the game will recognise the truth of it. Those who follow the game may also recognise many of the characters (despite the usual disclaimer). Both will enjoy the vivid description of the play, the comical banter and the sometimes bitter rivalry.
If there seem to be the odd cliche here, it is because Heaven's only sport is made up of them. Impossible catches follow farcical run-outs, bad balls take wickets, good ones clear the ropes and a three day match boils down to the last half hour, the last over, the last ball. That's what makes cricket such a wonderful game and what makes 'Settling the Score' such a wonderful book.
With the tension of a great Test Match, this is a first class read which every cricket lover should own. I for one, cannot wait for the return match.
Chocolate Shoes and Wedding Blues
by Trisha Ashley Paperback at £6.99Six months ago I was enthusing about The Magic of Christmas by this author and here we are, in the middle of summer (!) and Trisha has another cosy tale to tell. Tansy Poole leaves her long term partner, Justin, on discovering his guilty secret and goes home to ‘Nan’ whose shoe shop is failing. It’s just the thing to make Tansy forget, if only Justin would let her and she throws herself into running the shop selling specialist wedding shoes and shoe shaped chocolates. ‘Home’ is the village of Sticklepond where we meet old friends from previous books and Tansy meets her next door neighbour, an old flame. OK. So much is predictable but there are surprises and Trisha’s writing always seems like a personal letter rather than a book. An enjoyable and amusing love story with recipes.
The Mystery of Wickworth Manor
by Elen Caldecott paperback at £5.99
When Paige Owens, on first arriving for a week at Wickworth Manor with her friends, first meets a rather unhappy lonely boy, Curtis Okafor, she thinks him too posh and serious for her. However, soon the pair become friends and find themselves on the trail of a ghost, secret tunnels and hidden treasure. If it sounds too Blytonesque, it has some fresh ideas on display. It deals with bullying and unusual friendships and racism in a subtle way and the writing makes all the characters come alive. It would be nice to think that Paige and Curtis have more than one outing together. A good, funny adventure story with a generous helping of thoughtful realism.
A Horse in the Bathroom
by Derek J Taylor’s Paperback at £8.99
This is an amusing tale of the author’s time spent converting an old Cotswold stable into a home. At least, that’s what you might think by reading the Blurb.
In fact, it’s much more than that. During the mammoth and occasionally regretted task that the author and his partner, Maggie, take on in converting a block of old stables down Back Walls in Stow into a the perfect home, Derek does a Bill Bryson job on a wide range of country matters. He wonders just what makes a village tick and asks this question of Blockley, Bledington, Aston Magna, Swinbrook, Stow, of course, and many more. For some strange reason he fails to mention Bourton but does investigate the oddly named Packingham-in-Stayle instead. I wonder how much they paid him to leave them alone!
He braves the Gypsy fair and town planning departments with equal courage and has interesting opinions on both. Along the way, he makes many a pointed remark about country people and their villages but does so with such wit and good humour, that I’m sure nobody will be offended. However, you might like to see if you get a mention! Or perhaps someone you know.
Yes, there’s lots here about oak beams and officialdom but the book is consistently interesting on a wide range of subjects, and it’s very well written, witty and often ‘Three Men in a Boat’ kind of funny, that is, very funny indeed.
Lost in Flames
Christopher Jory Hardback at £14.99
This is a book that may appeal to both male and female readership. Though much of the action takes place in the confines of RAF bombers in the chaos of searchlights, flak and German fighters deep over Germany, it’s background is very much a love story, and an unusual one at that.
Much of the first half of the book sees young Jacob Arbuckle growing up in the countryside near Chipping Norton and here we see the day to day life of hard working country dwellers. Many of these characters are memorable and well defined but it is Rose, eight years older than Jacob, who picks him out when he is still a boy and waits patiently for him to become an adult.
However, it is flying and warfare which claims Jacob first and the action in the air is particularly well described, as is the psychological impact of the stress, fear and tension of waiting between ops. So now, Rose must wait while Jacob does his thirty sorties and then goes back for another thirty, to ‘finish the job’.
I’ll not spoil the denouement but this is an unusual love story as well as an emotional attempt at setting the record straight for ‘The Bomber Boys’.
Thyme Running Out
Panama Oxridge pb £6.99
I have been wanting to write a review of Thyme Running Out ever since I first read the hardback late last year. Now that the paperback is out, I really must get down to it. There’s a problem though. I can type a string of totally honest complimentary adjectives which will not help make up a reader’s mind if I don’t relate them to the plot. The plot, you see, is the problem. It’s almost impossible to mention any of the events in this book without giving something away. There are so many shocks and surprises that must remain secret that I daren’t mention any of them. Well, perhaps a few, eh?
The book starts slowly and amusingly with Justin using his Thyme Machine to investigate the extinction of the Dodo, only to find that a baby one has hitch-hiked back with him to the present. The dodo becomes an addition to the strange pets in the castle; Eliza the computer literate gorilla, Burbage, the Shakespeare quoting parrot and the eight legged cat, Tybalt.
There are also new staff members, Peregrine Knightly, the drippy nosed butler and Evelyn Garnet, the ruthless replacement nanny (for Nanny Verity is still missing). Either could be planning to steal the Thyme Machine. The action soon starts to rush along with discoveries about Mrs Kof and the new Nanny being only minor news compare with some of the most amazing revelations that ace detective Justin discloses in a Poirot scene that will have you gasping, chortling and scratching your head, all at the same time. And I haven’t even mentioned the big surprise which locked up my brain for several seconds. I simple could not believe the trick that the author had played on me. If you thought Justin Thyme was tricksy, just you wait till you read Thyme Running Out. There is one sentence in the book that virtually demanded that I had to read Justin Thyme all over again.
It’s ingenious and complex enough to challenge even Sherlock Holmes (and he does get a faint mention). It’s amazing. It’s funny. It’s gripping. It’s even moving. Finally, though it’s difficult to believe that it could be better than Justin Thyme, it is!
Geekhood by Andy Robb (Close Encounters of the Girl Kind)
Paperback at £6.99
There are dozens of books for girls in their early teens in which the heroine falls for the cool handsome guy but seems to have no chance till the last chapter, many of them great reads (Jenny Valentine’s Broken Soup’ comes to mind). However, there seem to be few books for boys carrying the equivalent theme (though the Airborn fantasy books by Kenneth Opel are excellent).
In Geekhood, Archie is a very ordinary boy of fourteen who's family background is in flux. The divorce is going through, his Dad is moving away, he has poor relations with his Mum's new boyfriend and, on top of all this, he's bullied at school. However, he can escape all this by spending all his spare time painting small model characters and playing Dungeons and Dragons with three close friends, that is, until he meets Sarah. Sarah is beautiful, is willing to join the boys in their roleplay games and, most amazingly, seems to like Archie. His journey away from his friends and into romance is funny and sad and ultimately rewarding for him and all those round him.
This book for young teen boys is a great read which fills a gap with humour and great honesty, even to the point of occasional vulgarity.
If you too, paint small characters look up our Games Workshop blog http://cotswoldbookstoregamesworkshop.blogspot.co.uk/
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
Paperback at 7.99
Michelle Paver's 'Chronicles of Ancient Darkness' was a huge hit with our younger readers right from the first book, Wolf Brother. The quality of the series was confirmed when she won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize with the sixth in the series, Ghost Hunter. We 'reviewed' her adult title, Dark Matter, when it was in hardback a year ago but now it's a reasonably priced paperback, we thought more people aught to know about it.
When poverty forces Jack, a rather insular young man, to volunteer as one member of a three man team at an isolated weather station in the Arctic, he believes his main problem may be how to rub along with the other two who are of a different class and lifelong friends. However, it soon becomes apparent that there is another presence out there in the long northern night. When, because of an accident to one of his companions, he is left on his own, his nightmare begins and unlike Ghost Hunter, here it's not the ghost who is hunted, but Jack.
Told in diary form, this adult ghost story uses many tricks of the trade but uses them well. It has echoes of The Woman in Black in its claustrophobic isolation, but no harm there. It is its own story and expertly told by this author who knows the Arctic well.
The Very Picture of You by Isabel Wolff
Paperback at £7.99
Though this is normally the sort of book I’d not pick up, when I received it as a proof, I decided to give it a go. I’ll confess that I quite enjoyed it.
Young, very single, Ella is a portrait artist who has painted many famous figures and commands a large fee. However, it is a portrait for her sister that causes her the biggest problem. The two main themes are this painting (of her sister’s future husband) and the unexpected and unwanted contact with her father who apparently deserted the family when Ella was still a child.
Though the central love story was given away by the blurb (don’t do that people!) and the truth about Ella’s missing father was rather telegraphed, it was the atmosphere of the portrait sessions that made this book enjoyable for me. The painting sessions and the conversations between sitters and artist seemed very real and I suspect that the author paints or spent many hours observing an artist at work.
A light, enjoyable, if predictable romance with a little more about it than some.
Netherwood by Jane Sanderson
Paperback at £6.99
This, the first in a new series, is a tale of two very different Yorkshire families a century ago, one headed by a miner, the other by Lord Hoyland, the mine owner.
Young, beautiful, Eve Williams, her devoted husband Arthur and their little family all spring to life from this book's earliest pages. Indeed, even the minor characters are solid, believable, well defined and great fun to meet.
Arthur works in Lord Hoyland's mines and earns little for long hours and dangerous work. The atmosphere of day-to-day living and survival for even these comparatively well treated families is made clear and hardship and hunger are always close by.
When Eve is widowed and faces ruin she finds that her skills as a baker are her salvation and, with a friend to help and encourage her, she soon finds her business catches the eye of more than just friends and neighbours.
Though Eve holds centre-stage with her friends and family, Lord Hoyland and his also star and both strands of the plot are told equally well. There seems little to challenge Eve’s rise ever upward to success and new love so this is a happy read, though not all those around her wish her well.
Light romance? Saga? Whatever. This should not really have been my cup of tea. However, it was, and good, Yorkshire tea at that.
This is a perfect read for Downton Abbey fans (and a great number of other folk, too) and I honestly look forward to knowing what happens next.
Death on the Marais by Adrian Magson
Paperback at £7.99
With the jungle fighting of Indochina behind him, Inspector Lucas Rocco thinks his transfer to rural France will give him a quieter life than his beat in Paris. That is until his first day there when, despite the war with Germany being nearly 20 years previous, a woman’s body in a Gestapo uniform is found. Rocco is not known to be deterred by political interference but when he discovers that the woman was the daughter of a rich industrialist with links to the resistance he knows he must tread carefully. He must also be careful where he puts his feet in the woods near his new home - there’s a crazy man out there setting explosive booby-traps. Rich in eccentric village characters and with a mystery complex enough to puzzle experts, this atmospheric novel is unusual in place and time. It is the first of the Rocco novels and I look forward to the next in the series later this year.
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Hardback at £12.99
I received my proof copy of this debut novel in mid February and so, by the end of the second month of the year, I felt I had already read my favourite adult read of 2011.
Samuel Lake is a preacher in need of a flock when, in 1956, he returns to the family farm in Arkansas. He has been set aside by his church for over-enthusiastic preaching and taking the Gospel as gospel when it came to treating all people equal. His family, comprising his three children and his devoted wife, Willadee, fit right in to the unusual and unruly family home ruled by Calla Moses, Sam’s mother-in-law.
With the front of the house run as a store and the rear as an all-night bar, the house ‘never closes’ and is often home to some of the more disreputable types from far and wide. The Moses family are honest, hardworking and kindly, and their conversations sparkle with homely wit and good sense. They are a joy to read about and this author brings them, and her minor characters, to life, in just a few words so that they soon become old friends.
However, not all their neighbours are as decent and civil as the Moses clan and one in particular could have been created by that master of cruel, vindictive characters, Dickens himself. Raz Ballenger, horse beater, wife beater, child beater and far worse, would be a close companion of Jonas Chuzzlewit, Quilp, and Mr Squeers. He is so realistically portrayed, that Nina was seriously upset by the book because of him. That, in my mind, is the measure of Jenny Wingfield’s writing, for she has given us the good and the bad and made them both equally believable. She has produced a host of memorable characters and a plot that neatly dovetails them all together leaving nothing unsaid. It is mostly amusing, sometimes moving, always involving, briefly terrifying and, finally, completely satisfying.
by David S. Goyer
and Michael Cassutt
This sci-fi novel, set in the very near but rather unlikely future, (with America, once again, spending money on manned space flight) starts with two teams racing to land on a ‘Near Earth Object’, a large chunk of rock, as it hurtles past the Earth. However, the NEO changes direction to bring it into Earth orbit but, of course, chunks of rock can’t do that. When the teams land (the American first, naturally) they discover that the NEO is actually a huge space craft with an internal sun.
So far, so ‘Rama’. With two crews present, there is friendly rivalry which, on occasion deteriorates into something more dangerous. However, it is the inhabitants of the NEO who cause the biggest problems, to the American team leader particularly, but I won’t spoil the surprise by telling how. Suffice it to say, it concerns death (or perhaps not!)
As in Clarke’s ‘Rama’ there are other amazing revelations but here there is more confusion and action so the plot fairly belts along. The ending, which is similar to ‘Close Encounters’, leads to the second part of the trilogy and it left me with the sense that part two may be even more interesting than part one. Good, solid, space sci-fi.
To Dream of the Dead
by Phil Rickman
Paperback at £7.99
This book is so good that, although it was published nearly three years, ago we felt we had to let you know about it. It is actually the tenth in the ‘Merrily Watkins’ series of crime novels but the author himself called in with it so I had an opportunity to read it before ordering some for the shop.
Though it is set in ‘Lewardine’ near Hereford, much of the subject matter could just as well apply to Moreton-in-Marsh. As in Moreton, local shops are under great pressure from super-markets and the inter-net. As in Moreton, there is argument as to the advantages or otherwise of a large new housing project. As in many of our surrounding villages, schools are closing while house prices force youngsters away from the area. And the plot unfolds during a heavy and continuous downpour which results in a flood, trapping people in the town.
After the discovery of the first murder victim, the author produces an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere as the flood water rises and isolates the small market town. Vicar (and exorcist) Merrily Watkins, her Pagan teenage daughter, and their friend DI Francis Bliss, are central to much of the plot and the teasing out of clues. All three are totally convincing characters and I particularly liked the typical wit of Scouser Bliss. The plot is involving throughout and there are many twists and turns as the three gradually close in on the truth, each supplying part of the big picture. There are enough suspects for two novels, very believable minor characters and the author writes with passion about the demise of his small town and the way of the world. It is clever and complex but always entertaining and there are enough cliff-hangers to keep you reading. There are also surprises along the way and perhaps more than one moment that will make your hair stand on end.
I cannot remember a crime novel I have enjoyed more.
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
HB at £12.99
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane Hardback at £16.99
Hard bitten private eyes in conflict with the Russian Mafia are fairly rare but this sets the mark. Middle aged Patrick dealt with a case that still haunts him, the return of a child to no-good parents. When she goes missing again, the trail leads him into conflict with some of the most brutal thugs I’ve read about. There were places in this yarn, of the murder and mayhem that follows a stolen Russian icon, where I felt the coincidences and lucky breaks stretched belief but the breakneck pace, the wit and the convincing, slightly-over-the-hill, protagonist were always enough to keep me reading with enjoyment. Don’t ask about the multi-strand plot, just admire the psychopathic heavies.
True Soldier Getlemen by Adrian Goldsworthy Hardback at £12.99
Flip by Martyn Bedford Paperback at £7.99
There are many body-swap novels but most take the comedy route. This teen read takes things more seriously and looks at the problems of a young boy, waking up in the body of another and having to acclimatise to a new life in which he cannot share his secret. When he tries, of course, he is disbelieved. There are advantages to being Philip rather than Alex - the girls, for a start. However, none are the right girl for Alex. There are complications and humour but, in the main, this is a well written and thoughtful look at some teen problems, a convincing fantasy and a charming romance. I could have happily read much more of this. Another please!
Walking in Pimlico by Ann Featherstone Paperback at £7.99
This debut novel, a murder mystery of Victorian times, with an atmosphere in which Dickens would be entirely at home, could hardly be bettered.
Corney Sage, comic and clog dancer, comes closer to being a witness to the brutal murder of a young actress than he would like and soon decides it’s time to leave his present situation before he becomes a victim too. The murder itself is dramatic and the scene when Corney goes for the police is as tense as you could wish. If you reach that point late at night, best leave it till the morning.
At times through the book, the reader follows Corney as he goes from one job to another, with the murderer always close behind. However, Corney’s voice, though the most enjoyable one, is not alone, for soon the author concentrates on the murderer’s view of things and it is a very different view indeed. The murderer is a ‘master of disguise’. So much so, that I had occasionally to double check that I was reading about the right character. I can say little more, for fear of spoiling your read, but I promise there is a surprise or two.
The novel’s strength is its characters, especially Corney whose wit frequently exceeds his wits, (he knows how to fool the public but is easily fooled himself) and its atmosphere. The lives of the actress/prostitutes and the circus people that Corney lives among are described vividly and knowledgeably with a scattering of slang and song to convince.
You might feel a little robbed by a final contrivance but I enjoyed every word of it.
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr Hardback at £16.99
In this year, the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web, this book has the subtitle, ‘How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember.
It presents the argument couched in this subtitle, lucidly and backed with ‘proof, which, to be fair, has been disputed since’. The presentation of knowledge and our ability to learn have changed throughout history, in particular, with the use of the printing press. These changes are occurring again, because of the net, and they may, in the future, make it unlikely that anyone will want, or even be able, to read a book such as his, or works by Dickens or Austin or even our book reviews! Their ability to concentrate for page after linear page will have been destroyed.
Intelligent and scary. Read it while you still can!
Empire of the Clouds
by James Hamilton-Paterson.
Hardback at £20.00
In this 70th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, this book covers the sad demise of the British aircraft industry ever since. From being one of the world leaders, we hardly have an industry at all through misgovernment and mismanagement.
Yet it is also a celebration of the amazing work that engineers and designers achieved against the odds and covers many of the great designs such as the Comet, the Hunter, the Lightning, the Vulcan, the TSR2 and Concorde. It is also the story of the test pilots, particularly Bill Waterton, though others such as Neville Duke, John Derry and Bill Beaumont are all included.
A bitter exposure of what went wrong, an exuberant celebration of what was right.
Sister by Rosamunde Lupton. Paperback at £6.99
Beatrice flies from America back to London determined to discover the truth about her younger sister’s apparent suicide. She moves into her sister’s flat and seems to inherit something of her spirit as she confronts those who certainly know more than they are telling. The father of Tess’s stillborn child, doctors conducting a drugs trial, a boy with a fixation for Tess, all come under her scrutiny. Engaging from the start, this debut novel, presented as a letter to Tess and as interviews with police, is remorseless in its progress to its totally unexpected ending. Only when you finally put this book down, will you fully realise what this talented young author has achieved. A superb, psychological thriller. As tricksy as 'The Others' or Sixth Sense'.
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver Hardback at 12.99
When poor, friendless Jack becomes one member of a three man team at an isolated weather station in the Arctic, he believes his main problem may be how to rub along with the other two who are of a different class and lifelong friends. However, it soon becomes apparent that there is another presence out there in the long northern night. When, through an accident, he is left on his own, his nightmare begins. Told in diary form, this adult ghost story uses many tricks of the trade but uses them well. It has echoes of The Woman in Black, the isolation, the malevolence, but no harm there, it is its own story and expertly told by this author who knows the Arctic and her craft well.
Benny and Shrimp by Katarina Mazeeti
Paperback at £7.99
Benny is a farmer, struggling to maintain his old family farm on his own. Shrimp is a young widow, mourning the sudden death of her husband. They sit, ignoring each other, on the same bench at the cemetery until Benny smiles and so begins an unusual love affair between two people with hardly a thing in common. This book, packed full of humour and charm, is told from alternate points of view, so presenting those everyday misunderstanding that we all have. However, Benny and Shrimp have more than most and you will have to read through many ups and downs to see if they finally settle their differences. A simple tale of ordinary people told with great understanding.
Sacred Treason by James Forrester Hardback at £12.99
It is 1563 and, with spy-master Walsingham and a vicious cut-throat as his enemies, William Harvey must decipher a chronicle, thought to contain a plot to kill Queen Elizabeth, before he is captured, tortured and killed. His task is complicated by his lack of knowledge of the plot and by the protection he offers to a beautiful widow. The author of ‘The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England’, Dr. Ian Mortimer, has used a pen name for this fast paced medieval thriller. Because of his expertise in the period, one could not expect to fault his historical detail. Indeed, his tale is rich in the minutia of the period and is also partly based on fact.
The Botticelli Secret by Marina Fiorato Paperback at £8.99
It is 1481 and when prostitute Luciana models for Botticelli’s Primavera, she stumbles across a secret that engages her and her friend, Guido, in a race against time and many enemies. The plot is audaciously complicated with ciphers and clues on nearly every page, the language bawdy in the extreme, the characters cover the gamut of human kind from beggars to Counts, Kings and the Pope himself. It is funny, exciting and very, very clever. The plot is full of historical references, often with tongue in cheek and finally, it is a romance of a most unusual kind, for the man is innocent and the woman, decidedly not. The Da Vinci Code well writ but not for the maiden aunt.
Trash by Andy Mulligan Hardback at £10.99
The setting of this unusual novel is the filthy, dangerous rubbish tips outside a city in an unnamed African state. The subject is the plight of the families who survive by scavenging from these dumps. Central to the story are three street wise young boys who make an astounding find on the tip. It is one that puts their lives in danger from corrupt officials and police. A wrong step and they could be killed and cast onto the heaps that provide them with a living. Amazing in its ability to contrast the terrible lives these children lead with the joy they have in living, this small, courageous book gives cause for thought, even as you share the boy’s adventure.
Before I fall by Lauren Oliver Paperback at £7.99
(see New Arrivals and their blurbs page)If Sam Kingston, eighteen year old, cool and self-centred college girl, seems lifted from an American teen movie, don’t give up her. She actually grows on you - after she’s dead. Despite the dislike I felt for the protagonist and her three friends as they belittle younger students, boys and even teachers I found myself reading this one non stop. Sam tells us of just one day of her life, of her relationships with family, friends and the boy who she plans to lose her virginity to. Things do not go according to plan, however, and Sam is killed in a car accident, only to wake up the next morning with a clear memory of everything that happened yet finding she has to live the same day again. Yes, it’s Groundhog Day but don’t think less of it because it’s been done before. Here, there is a serious message that will make you think even as you scurry through the days before her death, each of them the same, each of them very different. As in ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’, you don’t stop to ask how? or why? you just immerse yourself and enjoy. A charming story of young love, friendship and the growth of self awareness. Read this and you will insist that your friends read it too.
Tommy Glover's Sketch of Heaven by Jane Bailey Paperback at £7.99
This is a charming Cotswold story, set during the war, by Cheltenham author, Jane Bailey. Kitty, young, back-street London girl, is evacuated to a Cotswold village and her 'forthright' (!) manner soon causes upheaval as she acts as a catalyst for change. Seemingly a simple tale, it is packed with memorable characters and interweaving themes.
You cannot fail to be moved, yet laugh out loud, when you read of Kitty's first experience of a Cotswold cream cake. When Kitty, so used to the mean patches of London sky, has her first view of an open Cotswold field, with its seemingly vast horizons, you may well be as moved as she is. With a little of Goodnight Mr. Tom and a great deal of humour, Tommy Glover’s Sketch of Heaven is a delight, from its culture clash beginning to its romantic ending, via an exposure of secrets that belie the idyllic beauty of the Cotswolds.
Mad Joy by Jane Bailey Paperback at £9.99
Jane Bailey's second Cotswold novel, Mad Joy, is the equal of her first, Tommy Glover's Sketch of Heaven. They are both cleverly crafted with major and minor characters sympathetically created and both have charm and tension in equal measure. Mad Joy, however, has a kernel of truth about it, for is partially based on an event in her own family history.
Mad Joy starts between the wars and in it, a little girl runs into a wood and, two years later, runs out again, into the house of spinster Gracie. Where does she come from and what became of her in those two years? Gracie has no wish to delve as the truth might take little Joy away from her. Joy, herself, may have her own, deeply buried reasons for not examining her past. Full of this author's trade-mark humour and containing some of her most memorable characters, this novel builds slowly to a climax, hint by hint, as the aptly named Joy approaches adulthood and the secret of those two years and of her earlier life comes to light.
Famous Last Words by Annie Sanders Hardback at £18.99
When Lucy Streeter is told by a fortune teller that she only has days to live, she naturally, laughs it off, until everything else he predicts starts to come true. Lucy has always been a quiet, careful person, but now she decides to take risks. After all, she may as well go out with a bang. New hair do, new clothes, a new date, perhaps even sex with a stranger - anything could happen with the new Lucy Streeter. An easy, fun read with an unusual plot and an ending that has both surprise and predictability.
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory Paperback at £7.99
This insightful look at the most turbulent period of British history, the Wars of the Roses, centres on Elizabeth Woodville who snares King Edward and then devotes her life to trying to retain the crown. Despite a cast that includes Warwick, ‘the Kingmaker’, Richard the Third, Henry Tudor and nearly every other member of the houses of York and Lancaster, the author manages to bring all of them to life. Elizabeth herself develops, in the twenty one years covered here, from passionate lover to a scheming politician who can outmanoeuvre most of them.
The pace never slackens except during the many battles when the tension is wound up another notch by deliberate delay. This is Philippa Gregory at her best.
Lavinia by Ursula le Guin Paperback at £7.99
I confess to having never read The Aeneid, in Latin or in translation. However, that was not necessary to allow my full enjoyment of Ursula Le Guin’s mystical fantasy centred on the young princess Lavinia. In Virgil’s epic poem, Lavinia,daughter of King Latinus, has a walk-on non-speaking part. Here she is centre stage, a modern, intelligent, wise and political young woman who takes risks for her people, at the same time, doubting her own reality. There is conflict, romance and suspense in this gripping tale which has been been compared to ‘I Claudius’ whereas I saw similarity to one of my favourite books, Till we have Faces by C.S.Lewis.
For readers who never read ‘fantasy’, start here and discover just how good and different it can be - I promise there are no dragons or dwarves, no wizards or hobbits, just superb, imaginative storytelling. Perhaps her best ever and perfect for book group reading.
The Dragons of Ordinary Farm by Tad Williams and Deborah Beale Paperback at £6.99
There may be no dragons in the review above but here there are plenty. This is a book for youngsters, co-written by a master of fantasy, Tad Williams (Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy, Otherworld etc) and his partner - their first work together and definitely not their last.
Two children go off reluctantly to a distant relation’s farm while Mum has a holiday on her own. They expect nothing but boredom and hard work but soon find that the farm is most certainly not ‘ordinary’. As they try to discover why the farm has a multitude of mythical animals and why the farm hands seem equally strange they meet up with ghosts, witchcraft and time-travel before you can say Dragon’s egg Their enemies are everywhere and young Lucinda and Tyler are in and out of scrapes on every page. A great read with more in the series to follow.
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke Paperback at £12.99
Black Lawyer, Jay Porter, and his wife, out for their wedding anniversary on a small boat, hear a scream and pluck a woman from the water. So starts what could have been just another crime novel, this one set in 1980s Texas. In this author’s hands, the conventional carries with it a passionate cry against corruption and racial hatred. The one is central to the crime, the other to Jay’s life for he has walked away from the civil rights protests of his youth yet constantly feels the pull of the unfinished fight. Many of the events belong to the life of the author’s father and the realism is evident though subtle. A good tense thriller, a top-notch novel.