Category Archives: Fluff

A Respectable Trade – Philippa Gregory – 3/10 (DNF)

“He did not know that for the first time and painfully, Frances was feeling emotions stir and warm into life.”

respectable trade

Josiah Cole needs cash and a socially connected wife. Frances Scott needs a husband. Once married, they find themselves dependent on sustaining a particular sort of lifestyle in order to keep moving upwards. They overpay for a house, over-furnish the house, all under the resentful eye of Josiah’s maiden sister.

I know very little about slavery, at any point or place, really. Only after watching Amazing Grace did I know anything about William Wilberforce and the abolitionist movement here in the UK; only after watching and reading The Help did I really know anything about racial politics in 1960s southern USA, plus drawing on reading To Kill a Mockingbird at school (and I’ll admit to still not knowing very much). And I know even less about 1780s Bristol, the sugar trade or rum.

But I abandoned this after 370 pages out of 500 – so close to the end and yet I did not want to spend more time wasted on these insipid, fearful characters so bent on destroying their own lives.

I wanted to like this; I know very little of the topic and feel that I should know more. But I found the characters too irritating and undeserving of more of my time.

Additional info
Copy from Bookmooch, I think. Given that it seems to have been published in Canada.
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 501 pages
Order A Respectable Trade from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Can Anybody Help Me – Sinead Crowley – 7/10

“With consciousness came distress. Her eyes flickered open and met his. but her thirst was greater than her feat and she moved her hand feebly on the blanket, her fingers flickering in the direction of the bedside locker.”

Can anybody help me FINAL

(adapted from Goodreads) Struggling with a new baby in a new city with a new husband, Yvonne turns to an online support group for help and support. When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne is concerned but dismisses her fears. She doesn’t know the woman, after all. But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?

This felt quite slow to get going (despite the nearly first-page murder), as two apparently separate storylines took their time to intermingle. Once we did get going though, there was no stopping our twisty-turny plot. Relatively straightforward to children of the internet age, some of it might be confusing to older readers. I loved it.Writing? So standard, so good, right? for a police procedural? I’ve got nothing to say on the writing – nothing exceptional, but certainly nothing that got in the way or in any way detracts from the book.

As I always do, I really like the lead police character in this one; and of course she’s a single-minded five-months-pregnant go-getter determined to absolutely get this bad guy right now. Yvonne came across as a bit pathetic, but on the whole totally believable and rounded. I was unconvinced by Eamonn as a character – he seems overly charming, too nice. But for me the most skilful bit of character-building was the online chat – Yvonne’s character chatted online in a manner that fitted her offline personality, and the other online voices were easily distinguishable and well-built up.

My knowledge of Dublin is zero (never having been), and Crowley sets the scene well with the run-down estate, the dingy pub, the pleasant terrace houses, the surety of rain at an Irish funeral. There’s a smattering of Irish dialect to make absolutely sure that you know you’re in Ireland – I didn’t mind it, and I imagine it makes the dialogue more authentic. It certainly doesn’t get in the way.

And I most definitely did not see the identity of the bad guy coming. I had a couple of indications in that general direction, but it was a huge surprise to me when it was revealed. A quick, thrilling read, and a slightly scary look into online forums (fora?) and life.

Additional info
Copy from publisher through NetGalley (which I have not used in a while!)
Publisher: Quercus Books, 400 pages
Order Can Anybody Help Me?from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

The Divorce Papers – Susan Rieger – 8/10

the divorce papers

“Divorcing clients harbour murderous thoughts, they just have better impulse control than your regular clients.”

When Mia Mather Meiklejohn is served divorce papers in a humiliating scene at her favourite restaurant, she quickly turns to her father’s preferred lawyers to represent her. The day she wants to meet, the firm’s divorce lawyers are all out of the office and Anne Sophie Diehl, a top criminal associate lawyer, takes the deposition, having been promised she’ll have to do nothing more. Mia likes Sophie and insists she stays on the case. Can Sophie get to grips with civil law fast enough to get Mia a good settlement – and before office politics drive her totally crazy?

I love an epistolatory novel. 84 Charing Cross Road, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen are some of my favourite books. Letters and depositions/meeting notes permit lots of dialogue to shine through, while characters who might (like me) prefer the written form are permitted to flourish through their own writing.

Rieger has written a set of solid, interesting characters here. Sophie is great – I recognise a certain amount of that young professional striving to impress while occasionally being pushed well outside of her comfort zone. Trying to keep her personal life on an even keel, with the help of a best friend in a totally unrelated job, while she puts in crazy hours at the office. I love her stream of consciousness memos. Mia is a great wronged wife – amusingly angry, witty, badly behaved in a highly entertaining way. Sophie’s family and friends provide a non-legal support cast who through her life into relief, as does her mentor David. Of the bit-part characters, I particularly liked Jane, the eleven-year-old “minor issue” of the dissolving marriage, and Bruce, her inordinately rich doting grandfather. Both are delicately written while funny and honest.

New Salem might as well be Rich Everyville. I don’t know where it is (outside New York, apparently), but it just seems to have a lot of rich people and their lawyers. Fine. Rieger gets away without bothering much with setting, as everything is documented rather than described. In terms of plot development it feels a bit slow – Rieger could have edited 50-100 pages out of this but I don’t mind. This is the kind of light reading you don’t really want to end. If it had been 800 pages with more turns, that would have been fine. As it is, there’s a bit of development just often enough to keep you interested, and the private life intercessions help to keep the sense of time progressing.

It’s not the Next Great American novel, but I loved this. The test for me of whether I’m into a book is whether I read it when I’m not on public transport – and this one I even thought about taking to bed to read. It’s easy to read (some of the extracts of the Narragansett Legal Code are not so legible) and funny. You care about the characters just enough to be engrossed but able to leave them behind.

Definitely recommended as a light and easy read any time there’s a Tube strike on.

Additional information:

Copy kindly provided by the publisher in return for an honest review. Publisher: Crown Publishing USA, 461 hardback pages
Order The Divorce Papersfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting


Of Love and Other Wars – Sophie Hardach – 6/10

“I hope I would have the faith and strength of mind to peacefully resist and dissuade him.”

of love and other wars-1

Quaker brothers Charlie and Paul Lamb are caught up in the pacifist movement, then called to account for their actions when they register as conscientious objectors. For Paul’s girlfriend Miriam Morningstar, his actions are less palatable – and Miriam’s mother has plenty of her own demons to face.

This *really* picked up towards the end. I posted a few weeks ago that I wasn’t very enthused about this? Well, by the end it still didn’t make my list of favourites but I broke through and finished it. (the fact that I had to break through to finish it is perhaps not the biggest compliment towards the book…) But suddenly it all got much more interesting – the strands started to come together, the end of the war was in sight.

Paul Lamb was by far the more sympathetic brother – Charlie is rambunctious and impetuous and a little too clever for his own good, convinced of his actions to run his life however he likes with little thought for others. Paul is much more gentle, more secure in his faith but less able to articulate it intelligently. Miriam is confident and likeable and impassioned – a pleasant blend of the two brothers. In the alternative timeline, I felt I should like Esther (as a fellow young female physicist from a specific minority religion – or at least I used to match all those adjectives), but she comes across as so hard and with so little love for her husband, so little rationality behind some of her personal interactions, that I found it very hard to support her perspective. I think I’d have enjoyed this a lot more if I had identified with one or more of the characters, but I found them all rather remote.

Obviously I didn’t live through WWII London but this felt pretty credibly set – the geography seemed to flow (although they are areas of London that I don’t know that well) and the time was vivid – particularly Miriam’s experiences in wartime London and Charlie’s life on the farm.

This is the first novel I’ve come across addressing life from either a Quaker or pacifist perspective, and I was quite surprised to find it was written by a German who had little experience of either in her personal life – it’s a very unusual perspective to take.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Additional information:
Copy kindly supplied by the publisher in return for an honest review. 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 376 paperback pages
Order Of Love and Other Warsfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson – 7/10

Herbert obeyed, and then it was okay, just as most things were okay, apart from the lack of vodka. Allan put up with it for exactly five years and three weeks. Then he said: ‘Now I want a drink. And I can’t get that here. So it’s time to move on.'”

100-year-old man

(from the back cover…) Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, Allan Karlsson is waiting for a party he doesn’t want to begin. His one-hundredth birthday party to be precise. The mayor will be there. The press will be there. But, as it turns out, Allan will not… Escaping (in his slippers) through his bedroom window, into the flowerbed, Allan makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, Allan’s earlier life is revealed. A life in which – remarkably – he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century.

There are two stories here – one of 100-year-old Allan escaping from his retirement home, accidentally stealing 50 million krone, and his subsequent journey around Sweden with some unlikely accomplices, and the stories of Allan’s earlier life in which his expertise with explosives got him into tangles in Franco’s Spain, the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, the Korean War, Iran and Stalin’s Russia. I found the latter much more interesting than the former and would happily have only had that half of the story! His “present-day” adventures tended more to the ridiculous. This is as plot-dependent as the trashy thrillers which line my hand-luggage on any long-haul flight – but less tense and dramatic somehow. It’s perfectly put-down-able, because a long read leads to a farce overdose and the story is very easy to remember on recommencing.

The other characters, particularly Julius and Herbert Einstein, fulfil their obligations as comic foils well, but Allan is the star of the show. Sceptical of priests, politicians and anyone who drinks fruit juice, he is both Everyman and delightfully wacky. He has a slightly unrealistic knack of making everyone more likely to negotiate with him than shoot him (Kim Jong-Il being high on that list), but that’s necessary to keep the book going so we’ll set aside expectations of reality. The incompetent bad guys from “The Violins” gang and the press-hungry Chief Prosecutor Ranelid complete the cast of absurdity.

Worth a read if only for the light-hearted tour of the 20th century world events. Or Sonya the elephant.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Additional information:
Copy from a friend who was moving house and wanted to purge books before packing. Wise woman. 
Publisher: Hesperus Press, 387 paperback pages
Order The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappearedfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Bellfield Hall – Anna Dean – 9/10

“It was the under-gardener who found her.”

bellfield hall

When Catherine Kent’s fiance suddenly breaks off their engagement and vanishes, she is distraught. Who better than maiden aunt Miss Dido to rush to the country house of Catherine’s in-laws-to-be, to solve the mystery of the missing heir and groom? And while there, also to solve the mystery of the young woman found murdered in the shrubbery?

All the mystery happens before we start our journey with Miss Dido Kent, but we get plenty of shots at it with assorted re-tellings and interviews. Dido gets it all hopelessly wrong lots of times, but on each occasion her deductions seem logical. I spotted one or two things before she did, but they turned out to be wrong anyway. There was a great deal of plot thickening with assorted character twists and revelations, all great fun.

Miss Dido Kent is right up there with my favourite investigating protagonists. She’ll brook no nonsense, she indulges her niece too much, she knows her way in the world and doesn’t stand on ceremony. The rest of the characters left a little to be desired – the bullying Sir Edgar, mad Lady Montague, the two silly Misses Harris and their busybody mother… it was a carefully crafted cast of caricatures. However, crucially, there were enough other characters to keep this interesting – often these ye olde country mysteries can feel a bit stifled when the guest list is too short. And there was the odd promising side character who might hopefully turn up in a sequel…

Dean cheats a little, having Dido recount much of the tale through letters to her sister Eliza, but the writing is generally smooth and clever. Dido is given to some rather modern opinions for the time (or rather, less snobby opinions than one might have held in her position at the time) and unsurprisingly has a lot to say about the roles of women and professional people – which is of course what a modern reader wants! The sub-title was “Or, The Deductions of Miss Dido Kent” which sets the tone perfectly – a very cozy mystery but longer and better developed than other cozies (e.g. M. C. Beaton’s works)

I loved this – hopefully Dean will write some more Dido Kent mysteries! My copy of this had a preview of “A Gentleman of Fortune” in it so I shall be keeping an eye out for it!

Additional information:
Copy from Bookmooch. Publisher: Minotaur Books, 310 paperback pages
Order Bellfield Hall: Or, the Deductions of Miss Dido Kent (Dido Kent Mysteries)from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Two recent DNFs

The Incredible Inheritance of Wilberforce by Paul Torday – 4/10 – abandoned after about 70 pages. I picked this up because I loved Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, but this is the story of an alcoholic, from the perspective of said alcoholic, who inherits a truly absurd quantity of high quality wine. Being a non-drinker, this didn’t speak to me at all! And I found it deeply frustrating. That said, I suspect wine connoisseurs might find it quite funny.

(bought at the Lancaster market about 2 years ago – which means it’s moved house at least twice with me…)

The Sacred River by Wendy Wallace – 2/10 – abandoned after about 70 pages. This story of a Victorian family who travel to Egypt for the sake of the daughter’s consumptive lungs failed to grab me. By page 70 they were on board with the strange aunt, there was obviously some intrigue with the painter, Harriet had made friends with a newlywed who then suddenly gave birth (without there having been any indication of pregnancy at all)… it felt disjointed to me and wasn’t hard to set aside.

(review copy kindly sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review)

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