Wednesday, 30 September 2009


Genre: Gothic Mystery

Publisher: Orion (2006)

Audio CD read by Juliet Stevenson



Vida Winter, the most famous novelist in England and quite possibly the world, has never been forthcoming when it comes to her past. Her entire life is a secret, and for fifty years reporters and biographers have attempted to discover the truth. With her health quickly fading, Ms. Winter enlists a bookish amateur biographer named Margaret Lea to bear witness to the tragic story of the Angelfield family, their eccentric beginnings as well as their demise. Margaret, who has family secrets of her own, must unravel the mysteries of the past in order to reconcile not only Miss Winter with her ghosts, but also Margaret with her own.

This story only came alive for me about half way through, up until then I found it quite slow and wasn't sure where it was heading but as soon as Margaret started to unravel Vida Winter's family secrets I was engrossed. I also loved the character of the mild and friendly Aurelius Love who lived alone and was well known in the local village for his baking skills, which I thought was quite unusual!

Juliet Stevenson's narration was perfect and easy to listen to.


Monday, 28 September 2009

BOOK NEWS: Lorrie Moore's first novel in 15 years takes US literary world by storm

To the casual observer, the big publishing event of the summer in America was Dan Brown's new thriller, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies and saw fans queue outside bookshops across the country.

But to the nation's literary classes, the fervour surrounding Brown's The Lost Symbol was a mere blip on the cultural radar compared to the reaction to an altogether different sort of author: Lorrie Moore.

Moore, a 52-year-old midwestern female academic, is frequently hailed as one of America's best modern writers, especially as a master of the short story. But the mildly reclusive writer had not written a novel for almost 15 years. Until now. The reaction to her return has been ecstatic.

"This is a really big event. It is a major work by a major literary figure," said Carolyn Kellogg, who writes for the Los Angeles Times' book blog, Jacket Copy. "For literary people it's wonderful because they were afraid Dan Brown's book had sucked a lot of the air out of the summer. But the reaction has been great."

Moore's book, A Gate at the Stairs, has even entered the bestseller lists, something that is rare for a literary novelist and for a work that is aimed squarely at the high end of the market. It follows the life of Tassie Keltjin, a young woman coming to terms with becoming an adult in the wake of 9/11.

The critical reaction has been impressive. "On finishing A Gate at the Stairs, I turned to the reader nearest to me and made her swear to read it immediately," wrote a gushing Jonathan Lethem in the New York Times.

"Lorrie Moore has a unique gift. She can be screamingly funny – and in the very next paragraph, able to convey terrible grief," said critic Deirdre Donahue in USA Today.

Some have even compared Tassie's progress of emerging into the modern adult world with that other famous coming-of-age literary figure, Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye. "Hey Holden Caulfield, don't look now but somebody's sitting in your seat on this bus. Her name's Tassie Keltjin," wrote Chris Watson of San Jose's Mercury News.

Moore certainly inspires affection in American literary circles. Her short stories have appeared regularly in the New Yorker and her previous novels – particularly Anagrams and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? – have been widely praised. She has honed a style of writing that laces sardonic humour with moving tragedy, with neither element detracting from the impact of the other.

"The Lorrie Moore voice has been extremely important. In her best works, she can be brutally funny and heartbreaking at the same time," said Michael Gorra, an English professor at Smith College, Massachusetts.

But where has Moore been for the last decade and a half? In a proper mystery story – especially one written by Brown – there would be a dramatic tale behind Moore's curiously protracted absence from the novel-writing scene. But the truth seems to be prosaic. Writing literary novels is not a surefire way to riches in America, even for the most successful, and it appears Moore has simply been busy struggling through a painful divorce, living life as a single mother and working hard at her day job as a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin.

A particular drain on her time has been raising her adopted black son, Benjamin Borns-Moore. Though she writes in her new book of the difficulties faced by those who adopt a baby of a different race, in real life it has been a spectacular success. Borns-Moore is a rising star of American soccer, having recently been named to a national junior squad.

Often grilled in interviews about her long absence, Moore has recently taken to poking fun at the subject. "I was captured by space aliens," she told one blogger recently.

"I have a list of prosaic reasons and excuses, such as being a working, single, book-reviewing mom, but I grow vaguely but perceptibly hysterical when I recite them, so I've decided to go with the space alien tale."

Many in the literary world hope that the attention now being showered on Moore's return to novel-writing will see her work spread to a more popular audience. But even the bestselling literary writers in America are still likely to remain unknown in terms of mass popular culture.

"Hopefully a lot more people will get to know her, but even John Updike could have walked through a mall and 99% of people would never have recognised him," said Professor John Wenke of Salisbury University, Maryland. It would seem Dan Brown's global fame remains unchallenged for the moment.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009


Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Published by: WW Norton & Co. (2008)

Pages: 329 (Paperback)



1st Paragraph:

Just before the Civil War tore America asunder, a young boy named Henry McCarty was born. During his short life he acquired other monikers, including Henry Antrim, the Kid, Kid Antrim, the Wandering Kid, William H Bonney, Billy Bonney and El Chivato. Just months before his death he finally became known as Billy the Kid, really more of a title than a name and one that would last for eternity.
When Pat Garrett shot and killed Billy the Kid on July 14th 1881 in New Mexico Territory a legend was born.

From the corrupt streets of New York to the corrupt towns of the Wild West, Billy the Kid's 21 short years are brought vividly to life by this fascinating biography.

So few actual facts are known about him that historians do not even agree about his birthplace or even his real name. Michael Wallis has painstakingly sifted through all the exaggerated stories and outright lies that have surrounded him over the years and through a mixture of anecdotes from people who knew him, reliable sources, historical documents, and his own meticulous research, he has debunked many of the myths of his murderous ways and discovered that
"the truth of the young man was neatly covered up through sleight of hand with historical facts by a host of dime novelists, journalists, and hacks.......he was then and forever a mirage."

Some of the many surprising facts that did emerge are that Billy shunned tobacco and seldom drank, was literate (in fact there is documentary proof of a letter he had written), loved reading especially the popular 'dime novels' of the day, could speak fluent Spanish and loved singing and dancing, an appreciation that came possibly from his mother's Irish background.

Until his mother's death in 1874 when Billy was only 14, he was a normal mischievous boy. Afterwards he became a young man who had to fend for himself and grow up very quickly by living on his wits and eventually turning to horse stealing and gambling to live.

This is not just a history of Billy the Kid, but also a history of the Old West during the late 19th century, of the lawlessness and corruption during his short life, including the infamous Lincoln County War.

I particularly enjoyed the photographs dotted around the book, which included many of the characters and places mentioned, and the cover of the book shows the only documented photographic image of him, taken in late 1879 or early 1880. Paulita Maxwell, one of Billy's lady friends, said in later years, "I never liked the picture, I don't think it does Billy justice". The young man's image is forever frozen in time - just like his myth.

For more about Billy the Kid an excellent website can be found here.

Special Thanks to W.W. Norton & Co. for sending me this book to review.

Friday, 18 September 2009


Genre: Crime, Thriller, Mystery
Published by: Orion (2009)
Pages: 466 (Paperback)


1st Line:

Derek figured, when the time came, the crawlspace would be the best place to hide.

When the Cutters' neighbours, Mr and Mrs Langley and their young son Adam, are brutally murdered in cold blood everyone is shocked and when the police discover that 17 year old Derek Cutter was hiding in their house at the time of the killings he then becomes the prime suspect. His friend Adam's computer is missing; what has that got to do with his mother's boss; and could a young man's suicide somehow be linked to the novel that was on the missing computer? Did the killers go to the wrong address - should they have been looking for the Cutters house instead?

Derek's father, Jim Cutter, is determined to prove his son's innocence and it seems that everyone has secrets to hide, even Jim...........

This is the 2nd Linwood Barclay book I've read - his debut novel was No Time For Goodbye which was a Richard & Judy pick. This is very similar in many ways: it starts with a mystery and the reveal is very slowly and tantalisingly uncovered with twists and turns along the way. The main narrator, Jim Cutter, was incredibly likeable, honest, protective of his family, talked in mono-syllables, and did not suffer fools lightly; sounds like my kind of guy!

I always think that with these kind of books (suspense, mystery) that the reveal is never going to match up to all the build-up throughout the novel, and Too Close to Home is no exception. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed it, Linwood Barclay's fast writing had me hooked from the start, and I didn't guess the plot, but I just felt there was something missing and I'm not sure what it was!

However, if you enjoyed No Time for Goodbye or Sophie Hannah's books then I think you'd like this just as much.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

BOOK NEWS: Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol breaks hardback record in 36 hours

Dan Brown's new book The Lost Symbol has sold more copies in its first 36 hours of release than any other adult hardback novel has managed in its entire lifetime, the publishers said.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
The Lost Symbol has beaten the previous record set by Hannibal

The long-awaited follow up to The Da Vinci Code hit the shelves on Tuesday and has already more than 300,000 copies in the UK, compared with the previous best-selling adult hardback, Thomas Harris' Hannibal, which has sold 298,000 copies since it was published in 1999.

Publishers Transworld said they were on the lookout for websites offering pirated copies of the new novel, after reports that two sites had already posted material from the book.

A spokeswoman said: ''We have a very vigilant team who are constantly scanning the web to investigate potential piracy issues. If and when they do find any rogue material out there we will issue 'take down' notices.''

Like The Da Vinci Code, The Lost Symbol features Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, and had a UK first print run of a million.

Transworld said the book had already sold more than a million copies worldwide and was now being translated for release in non-English-speaking countries.

Despite this early success, the book has a long way to go to match the astonishing success of The Da Vinci Code, which has sold 81 million copies around the world, and is the UK's biggest-selling paperback of all time.

The book's popularity sparked huge interest in Brown's previous novels - Angels and Demons, Deception Point and Digital Fortress, which became multi-million-copy international best-sellers.

They also spawned two hit movies. The film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks was a worldwide number one hit, as was Angels and Demons, the adaptation of the first of Brown's thrillers featuring Langdon.

Taken from

Friday, 11 September 2009


Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Outskirts Press (2009)
Pages: 256 (Paperback)


Martha Taylor was a young white girl living in the Deep South in the mid-fifties when her curious nature led her to follow her caretaker Lucy (a young black woman) into the woods one day where she finds Lucy's family living there. As she visits the family more and more she comes to realise that the color of her skin does not matter to them, they welcome her for who she is.

Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, the story revolves around Martha and Silas, Lucy's nephew, who become good friends and eventually fall in love, despite the racial tensions at the time.

One of the many instances of segregation and fear is outlined here:

I ...... remember getting in serious trouble with Nannie......... She was at the sales counter talking to the clerk and I took less than 20 steps behind her to get a drink from the fountain.

"What are you doing? Can't you read that sign? Do you want to get sick from some disease?" Nannie was livid and remarkably upset.

It scared me so bad I didn't look at the sign until I was standing back beside her. Of course, the sign read 'Colored Only'. I couldn't imagine what all the fuss was about but, everyone was staring at me. What I did must have been despicable. I did notice that the water wasn't cold like the water in the 'regular' fountains. I began to understand that we were special and the colored people weren't.

This was such a fascinating story and as the time moves on into the sixties, Martha and Silas gradually have to move away from each other but still maintain their relationship during all the turbulance of the changing era, leading them both to self-discovery.

This would be a great fictional story on its own but, because it is true, it is all the more moving and one that I found hard to put down. A recommended read for anyone, especially if you're interested in the civil rights movement during the late 50's to late 60's.


Special Thanks to Martha A Taylor and Bostick for sending me this book to review

Kris at Not Enough Books has also read it, you can find her review here


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