Book Review: Rosie ****

I was sent this book free-of-charge (yay!), by NetGalley, in return for an honest review.

ROSIE

by Bill Whiting

The NetGalley description reads:

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Book Review: Paris Ever After (*** and a half)

This book was sent to me free of charge (yay!) by Net Galley, in return for an honest review.

PARIS EVER AFTER

by K.S.R.Burns

This is actually the second in the series – I’m not sure there will be a third – but it read well enough as a stand alone novel. The press release reads:

Amy traded a stale life and crumbling marriage back in Phoenix for adventure in Paris. She conquered her lifelong obsession with food and learned to enjoy a good croissant. Then, on Amy’s thirtieth birthday, two unexpected visitors leave her wondering if she will soon be saying au revoir to the City of Light and the new life she struggled to build. Her estranged husband, Will, shows up—but is he interested in reconciliation or separation? And a young woman who arrives on Amy’s doorstep unleashes chaos that could push Amy out into the street. Amid secrets and surprises, set in enchanting gardens, cozy cafés, and glittering Parisian streets, Amy must choose between two very different worlds. And each has a claim on her heart.

I found the main character, Amy (or Aimee) engaging, and while I found a few of her actions slightly unbelievable, and some of the events just a little too coincidental or serendipidous, the story romped along at a good pace. Yes, there was a modicum of suspense about which man Amy would end up with – although it was never really in that much doubt – but generally the story was fairly predictable.

Having said that, it was interesting enough, and reasonably well written, with certain paragraphs or phrases being poetic enough for me to pause and enjoy reading them again. I’m not sure I was engaged enough to go back to read the first, nor would I necessarily rush to buy a sequel, but I enjoyed reading this book.

 

I give it three-and-a-half stars (but as there’s no half-stars with Net Galley I round it UP to 4 stars, rather than rounding it down!)

Book Review: A Year of Marvellous Ways *****

This wasn’t sent free by Netgalley. I paid for this one on Amazon.

I’d read good reviews of this book, so decided to buy it. I’m very glad I did.

The blurb on Amazon reads: Marvellous Ways is eighty-nine years old and has lived alone in a remote Cornish creek for nearly all her life. Lately she’s taken to spending her days sitting on a mooring stone by the river with a telescope. She’s waiting for something – she’s not sure what, but she’ll know it when she sees it. Drake is a young soldier left reeling by the Second World War. When his promise to fulfil a dying man’s last wish sees him wash up in Marvellous’ creek, broken in body and spirit, the old woman comes to his aid. A Year of Marvellous Ways is a glorious, life-affirming story about the magic in everyday life and the pull of the sea, the healing powers of storytelling and sloe gin, love and death and how we carry on when grief comes snapping at our heels.

I think as a summary of the book, it’s good. What it doesn’t give you is any idea of the  poetry of the writing. It is truly beautiful. Every other page I would pause to roll a phrase, a sentence, sometimes a whole paragraph round in my mouth, saying the words aloud for the sheer pleasure of hearing them. Perhaps I noticed this because I was reading this straight after the rather pedestrian writing of “The Phantom’s Apprentice” but I loved this book for the author’s skill at manipulating language. Perhaps it was slightly too whimsical/ magical from time to time, but this didn’t detract from the beauty of the writing.

One thing I found a little difficult was the lack of speech marks, which meant that, at times, I wasn’t sure who was speaking, or if it was narrative, rather than dialogue. However, after a while, I became more accustomed to the style.

I would definitely recommend this book, giving it a solid five stars. *****

Book Review: The Phantom’s Apprentice *** (and a half!)

This e-book was sent to me free of charge by Netgalley in return for an honest review. Here it is:

THE PHANTOM’S APPRENTICE

by Heather Webb

I loved the Andrew Lloyd Webber show, “The Phantom of the Opera, and when we lived in the UK I think I saw it three or four times. The music still excites me when I hear it. I must admit, however, to never having read the source material – it always seemed too dauntingly thick and, well, “French”!

This is a retelling of the original story from the point of view of the heroine, Christine Daée, so we read of her background, before she joined the Paris Opéra, and how she became involved with the Phantom. It does perhaps give some less-than-interesting details, but actually I found the book engaging and it romped along at a good pace. The twists and turns, the doubts about who is actually on Christine’s side and who isn’t, the mysteries of the Opera House are all told well enough to pull the reader in. The  premise of why Erik (the Phantom) becomes obsessed with Christine is a little far fetched (although I don’t know if that is in the original story) but, to be honest, the whole tale is far fetched, so the reader needs to suspend disbelief, in order to read this successfully.

The main problem for me was that some of the language that the author used jarred as being inappropriate, either in the context in which it was used, or in the fact that it was very 21st century language. I would be reading a sentence, and instead of being gripped by what was being unfolded in front of me, I was thinking “That word isn’t right…” For example, in one section of the book (and nowhere else) the author had Christine “plopping” down onto sofas – a distinctly inelegant word! She “scooted” to various places, she “slung” something at someone, and, in one section, Christine “barrelled” across a room. These are really ugly, and, in my opinion, lazy ways of describing actions, and they all really annoyed me!

However, despite this, I give the book three and a half stars stars for the fast pace, and the engaging story. It lost half a star for the language used!(However, with Netgalley there’s no half stars, in which case I give it 4)  I enjoyed it more than The Mayflower Bride, but certainly not as much as Patrick Gale’s “A Place Called Winter”

Book Review: A Place Called Winter *****

This was NOT sent to me by NetGalley, but instead was a Christmas present, from Mr FD requested by me.

I LOVE Patrick Gale’s books – I first read “Rough Music”, picked up in Ottaka’s bookshop in Milton Keynes on a 99p “We Think You Will Love This” promotion. I did love it, and there isn’t one of his books that I haven’t really enjoyed, although I think I found “The Cat Sanctuary” to be the one I enjoyed least. I haven’t read all his books, and look forward to reading others at a later date. You may have seen the TV adaptation of hos bok, ” Man in an Orange Shirt”, which I very much enjoyed too.

So:

A PLACE CALLED WINTER by Patrick Gale

The “blurb” reads:

A Place Called Winter was a Radio 2 Book Club Choice on publication and went on to be shortlisted for the Costa Novel Prize, the Walter Scott Prize and the 2016 Independent Booksellers Book of the Year award.

A privileged elder son, and stammeringly shy, Harry Cane has followed convention at every step. Even the beginnings of an illicit, dangerous affair do little to shake the foundations of his muted existence – until the shock of discovery and the threat of arrest cost him everything.

Forced to abandon his wife and child, Harry signs up for emigration to the newly colonised Canadian prairies. Remote and unforgiving, his allotted homestead in a place called Winter is a world away from the golden suburbs of turn-of-the-century Edwardian England. And yet it is here, isolated in a seemingly harsh landscape, under the threat of war, madness and an evil man of undeniable magnetism that the fight for survival will reveal in Harry an inner strength and capacity for love beyond anything he has ever known before.

In this exquisite journey of self-discovery, loosely based on a real life family mystery, Patrick Gale has created an epic, intimate human drama, both brutal and breathtaking. It is a novel of secrets, sexuality and, ultimately, of great love.

This is one of those novels that you rarely come across – one that you cannot bear to put down because you want to read more, yet, at the same time, you want to read so slowly, because you don’t want it to finish.

From the very first pages I was drawn into the story – why was a well born Englishman, so obviously sane, being treated in a lunatic asylum? Knowing the author’s tropes, I imagined it was something to do with his sexuality, but there was much more to be discovered.

The breadth of the story, the strong characters, both male and female, the tragedy – all of this took my breath away. I really cared for the fate of these people, and found the descriptions of pioneer life in Canada really interesting. It touches on attitudes to homosexuality in Edwardian England, but what is fascinating too is the way that Harry, respêctably married as he is, has no way of expressing his feelings – he is not capable of articulating such emotions, because, at the time, such things just weren’t talked about. What made it more interesting is the fact that it is rooted firmly in reality, telling, as it does, the story of Gale’s maternal great grandfather.

Every character is beautifully delineated – this is one of the author’s strengths, in all his novels – and he describes both female and male characters with such a light touch, but so well crafted. Even the attendants in the asylum, who feature for one page, are described in two or three lines in such a way that you can picture them immediately.

It is difficult to explain what is so wonderful about this book. The Guardian reviewer said:

A Place Called Winter does not offer resolution, but it does offer hope that emotional truth and loyalty to that truth may be a way forward for Harry. He is an intensely sympathetic character in his struggles, his despair and the fundamental honesty that will never let him lie to himself for long. Harry Cane is one of many, the disappeared who were not wanted by their families or their societies and whose stories were long shrouded with shame. This fascinating novel is their elegy.

As you might have guessed, I give this book 5 stars.

Go, read it.

Book Review: The Mayflower Bride ***

I was sent this book electronically, free of charge, by Netgalley, in return for an honest review. Here it is:

THE MAYFLOWER BRIDE, by Kimberley Woodhouse

The description on NetGalley reads:

Can a religious separatist and an opportunistic spy make it in the New World?
A brand new series for fans of all things related to history, romance, adventure, faith, and family trees.

Mary Elizabeth Chapman boards the Speedwell in 1620 as a Separatist seeking a better life in the New World. William Lytton embarks on the Mayflower as a carpenter looking for opportunities to succeed—and he may have found one when a man from the Virginia Company offers William a hefty sum to keep a stealth eye on company interests in the new colony. The season is far too late for good sailing and storms rage, but reaching land is no better as food is scarce and the people are weak. Will Mary Elizabeth survive to face the spring planting and unknown natives? Will William be branded a traitor and expelled?

To be honest, I think the description makes the book sound more exciting than it actually is. But, having said that,I enjoyed the book, and found the story moved at a fairly rapid pace, which kept me interested. While I appreciate that the main focus of the story was the voyage itself, at times (rather like the pilgrims) I found myself wishing that they would land in the New World and get on with it! I found the characters were mostly believable and likeable: I think it was the less pleasant characters that I found to be less well described.

As a Christian myself, I didn’t find the continued Bible references too annoying, but I imagine that if you were reading this as a non-believer both the Bible verses and the slightly “preachy” tone would become increasingly irritating.

This gets a solid 3 stars from me – I enjoyed it, I wanted to finish it, it held my interest – but I’m not sure I would want to read another book by the same author.

Book Review: Hometown Girl Forever **

I was sent this book by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. So here it is:

HOMETOWN GIRL FOREVER by Kirsten Fullmer

I read the description of the book, which said:

Lizzie gave up her stressful job in Boston to embrace her love of all things country in Smithville PA. Her farm, a new job at the spa, and her pet alpacas are a dream come true, if only her meddling, matchmaking, socialite mother would back off.

Elliot, a successful architect from Washington, DC, designed the new spa, but he certainly hadn’t envisioned the exotic bohemian style manager or her intriguing, demanding mother. Small town antics and his interest in Lizzie extend his visit to Smithville, but will the allure of country life draw him in for good?

Once again, Smithville’s folk interfere with plans at every turn, forcing Lizzie and Elliot to face their personal dilemmas and each other, head on.

It sounded reasonably engaging, but actually the word I’d use for the book is “tedious”. I thought the characters were all banal, and there was no real “grey” areas in their character. Lizzie was sweet and gorgeous and torn, Elliot was handsome, sexy, and kind, the mother was overbearing (but of course, there was a good reason for this which all gets sorted out)…I knew from the very beginning what was going to happen at the end, and I felt that there was absolutely no jeopardy.

The cast of characters was too broad, with some of them playing no useful part in the story, and the sideplot of a high school musical felt very tacked on. I would have stopped reading, but for the fact I felt I owed it to Netgalley to finish the book.

Not one for me, I’m afraid. I won’t give it one star, as I’m perfectly willing to accept I may read books worse than this. But it only deserves 2 stars at most. And I certainly won’t bother reading any of the other books in the series….