Monday, 30 December 2013

The Giver by Lois Lowry


Imagine a society where everything was the same for all people.  A spouse is selected for you, two children - one boy and one girl are provided upon application and when those children are 12 years old their future occupation is selected for them.

Jonas has reached his 12th birthday and he is given a surprising occupation.  He is to be the Receiver of Memories.  All he is told about this role is that this is an honour, it will require bravery and he will feel both pain and pleasure.  Jonas is not at all sure that he actually wants this honour but he has no choice.  However, what he learns will lead him to question everything he has ever known about the community in which he has grown up.

This Christmas my sons decided to drag me kicking and screaming into the 21st century and bought me a lovely shiny new tablet.  A wonderful gift but I have never used one of these before, preferring to stick with my good old laptop.  Admittedly it has seen better days but it has served me faithfully for many years and we have a bit of an understanding and therefore get along rather well together.

So, Christmas morning and one of my clever technically minded sons fills my shiny new tablet with all sorts of apps, one of which was Overdrive Media which enables me to download e-books from the East Sussex e-library.  In setting it up he just picked a book at random to test it and it happened to be The Giver by Lois Lowry.

Having never read it I thought I might as well give it a go and I am so very glad that I did.  It was an amazing book and now I cannot believe that I have never read it before as it was published some time ago but what a treasure to find at the end of 2013.

It is aimed at children but I really think that anyone would enjoy this book.  I certainly did not feel that it was talking down to me as an adult and I found the subject matter to be extremely thought provoking.  In a society that appears perfect, as it does in the novel, it made me consider what we as individuals in the 21st century consider perfection or equality or responsibility, the list could go on.  It is a short book which raises so many questions that I know I shall still be thinking about it some time from now.

My only disappointment was to find that this book is the first in a quartet and I am now hoping that my e-library has the other three books.  The next book in the series is called Gathering Blue and I intend to continue with this series.  I enjoyed this book so much that it made it into my TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2013.


ISBN:  978 0007263513

Publisher:  Harper Collins Children’s Books

Price:  £5.24

Total saved so far:  £110.95

Sunday, 29 December 2013

My Ten Best Books of 2013



This was a hard list to compile as I have read some really good books throughout this year and choosing just 10 has taken a lot of thought and consideration.  My final choices are in no particular order and were not all published in 2013 but represent the books that I enjoyed reading the most throughout 2013.

I also want to take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful 2014. So without further ado, here are my TEN BEST BOOKS OF 2013



The Giver by Lois Lowry - I only finished reading this book this morning so my review will follow shortly. 

The Emergence of Judy Taylor by Angela Jackson

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

1Q84 (Books 1, 2 and 3) by Haruki Murakami

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Changing Places by David Lodge

The Innocents by Francesca Segal

The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

The Seamstress by Maria Duenas

The World is a Wedding by Wendy Jones


I would love to hear your opinions of any of the books that made it to my top ten. Please feel free to leave a comment in the box below or email me if you would prefer at leftontheshelf1@gmail.com.

I have got some exciting books lined up for 2014 starting with The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. I am about half way through this now and loving it.  My review should be up within the next week.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL.




Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Holidays



Deck the halls with boughs of holly tra la la la la etc.  Okay I shall stop singing now. I know it's not a pleasant experience for those around me who can actually hear my not so dulcet tones but it is Christmas Eve and my excitement levels are mounting.

However, before I get into stuffing the turkey and so on, I just wanted take a moment to wish all my readers and followers a Happy Christmas.  I hope that Santa brings you lots of good books to read in 2014.

I shall be back soon with my 10 Best Books of 2013 - not an easy choice as I have read some excellent books this year.

I’m also thrilled to say that since I began this reading blog in October I have saved a whopping £105.71 through reading free books and I am very excited at the prospect of this growing throughout 2014.  I have been fortunate in that I have had some books gifted to me this year but mostly the books I have read and reviewed have been library books, free kindle downloads or books that have been languishing on my shelves for far too long.

This is proving to be a really interesting challenge and I am very much looking forward to continuing with it and discovering new ways to access free reading.  Our library service has recently relaunched their e-library and I intend to explore accessing downloadable library books to read.

So Happy Christmas to you all and thank you for reading my blog.  I really appreciate your loyalty and interest in my reviews.  It is good to know that I am sharing my book love with like minded people.  I hope 2014 brings you much reading happiness.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Coming Up For Air by George Orwell

George Bowling is fat, forty- five and frustrated with his life.  He lives in an English suburb with his sombre wife, two children and is employed as an insurance salesman.  His life is the epitome of ordinariness except that this is England in 1939 and the country is on the precipice of war.

George’s thoughts turn to days gone by and he makes a return journey to his childhood village in search of the familiar.  However, he finds things have changed beyond recognition and he discovers nothing but disillusionment.

This novel is a re-read for me as it is one that I always enjoy enormously.  I am a fan of George Orwell and have read most of his published works but this is different to many of his other novels.

Here, he presents comic genius with what I consider one of the most amusing opening lines:  “The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth.”  This sets the tone for the whole novel as we view the world through George Bowling’s eyes.

George is not a very likeable character and some of his views are certainly not politically correct by today’s standards. However, what this demonstrates is how people viewed the world at the time as it provides the reader with a fairly accurate glimpse into suburban attitudes in 1939.

On one hand this is humorous to read whilst at the same time the darkness of war lurks in the shadows. The descriptions of George’s childhood are enchanting; Orwell transports us back to a time of safety and innocence with the knowledge that the world is about to be changed forever by the First World War.  It is apt that he finishes the book on the precipice of the Second World War when, once again, the country faces the unknown.

This is a wonderfully nostalgic novel.  George Bowling tells us that “it was always summer before the war” and the author makes a conscious decision to present his protagonists childhood and youth through rose tinted glasses.  However, it is wittily told and I think it shows us that Orwell was capable of a comic brilliance that we do not see in 1984 or Animal Farm.

I always enjoy reading this book and it’s one that has been on my shelves for many years and I would not part with it as I know I shall want to read this again at some point in the future.  I have a lovely edition which I think was published in the 1960’s with the classic Penguin trademark orange spine that I bought in a charity shop many years ago.  I think the cover is an appropriate depiction of an ordinary life with the fear of war looming in the background.  What do you think?  How do you think the cover compares with the current edition?


ISBN:  978 0141185699

Publisher:  Penguin Classics

Price:  £6.99

Total saved so far:  £105.71

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Last Romanov by Dora Levy Mossanen

Orphaned as a teenager, Darya Borisovna Spriridova, is taken into the Russian court where she is responsible for the care of the child heir to the throne.

Told retrospectively in the 1990’s,  Darya continues to be haunted by the time she spent with the royal family.  Her one remaining desire is to find the missing heir, whose body was not found amidst the remains of the Romanov killings.  She remains convinced of his survival and the ability for him to reinstate the monarchy.

Set amidst the splendour of the royal court and the contrasting political turmoil of Russia’s most violent period in history, the story recreates the final years in the Romanov palace and explores the reasons behind the massacre of the Royal family.  This subject matter has been told in many good novels before but it is very obvious from the beginning that this novel has been fully researched and intelligently told.  Dora Levy Mossanen, retells this story with a sensitivity missing from some other works.

The events are portrayed uniquely through the eyes of the main protagonist, Darya, who is a fascinating character.  Sometimes called a sorceress, other times an Opal Eyed Queen, she is full of mysticism, love and passion.  It is through her eyes that we witness the historical details of the period and the author enhances these historical facts through Dayra’s mystical encounters.  For me, this gave a whole new perspective to a familiar story and demonstrates Mossanen’s skills as a story teller. Adding a magical realism element to the story made this come alive and become incredibly readable.

I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical novels, romance or magical realism.  I was fortunate enough to take advantage of Amazon.co.uk offering this as a free kindle download in August 2012 but had I paid for this I would have considered it money well spent.

This is the first time I have read anything by  Dora Levy Mossanen and I am always excited to discover a new to me author.  I am thrilled to learn that she has written three other novels, Harem, Courtesan and Scent of Butterflies, all of which I hope to read following this excellent novel.

ISBN:   9781402265945

Publisher:  Sourcebooks

Price (based on today’s price for kindle edition):  £4.01

Total savings to date:  £98.72

Monday, 16 December 2013

Delia's Happy Christmas by Delia Smith

‘Tis the season to be jolly…………..  In other words the festivities are almost upon us again and our thoughts are turning to the gathering of friends and family and, of course, food.  Certainly, in our home, the Christmas cooking transforms my kitchen from the calm and comforting place it usually is to something resembling a military headquarters.  I have lists upon lists of ingredients, recipes, vegetarian options…..it  goes on and on.

What would I do without Delia Smith, I ask myself?  I have several recipe books by Delia adorning my cookery book shelf but at this time of year I love to turn to Delia’s Happy Christmas.  I have had this book for about four years now so have had the opportunity to try out a good few of the recipes.

The book is beautiful to look at with 150 appetizingly photographed illustrations of each of the recipes, although I must confess that my efforts do not always resemble Delia’s delightful concoctions.  However, the photographs do at least help me to know what it was supposed to look like!

Some of these recipes have become real favourites in our home and I highly recommend the recipes for:

*  Cheddar, sage and onion sausage rolls (I actually make these any time I do a buffet style meal)
*  Traditional Christmas pudding
*  Stilton and Lancashire cheese terrine with spiced pear confit (this is absolutely delicious)
*  Champagne jellies with syllabub and frosted grapes (I made these for my son’s 21st birthday)

I could go on as this book contains some amazingly mouth watering recipes.  Many of the recipes include meat but there are a good number of recipes for vegetarians too.  It is a guide to a stress free Christmas and one that I would not want to be without.  It retails on Amazon.co.uk for a mere £4.00.  Unbelievably good value for such a good recipe book.


ISBN:  9780091933067

Publisher:  Ebury Press

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk):  £4.00

Total savings to date:    £94.71

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Rabbit Hole by Garrett Smith

Set in 2025 Rabbit Hole is the first in the Paradox series.

Rabbit Hole Time Travel is the first commercial Time Travel company and the book opens with a trip to the Hindenberg disaster in 1937.  Brilliant scientist, Dr Nora Hamilton, is the guide on this trip and whilst there makes a discovery which ultimately will lead her to a partnership with Special Forces Operative Nick Canton.

Nora’s business partner and mentor, Dr. Marcus Locke, has been kidnapped by The Rippers; an organisation designed to use time travel technology to alter the past in order to gain wealth and power.  As Nora and Nick work closely together to rescue Marcus and defeat the Rippers, correcting altered history along the way, they grow close in a way that neither of them expected.

Recruiting a close knit team to work with them, neither Nora or Nick know who they can trust; and can they really trust one another?

I loved the premise of this book; that one could buy a commercial flight to any time and place.  It was great fun accompanying Rabbit Hole around the centuries.

I have been a fan of the time travel genre ever since I got hooked on the Back to the Future films decades ago.  However, I confess that I often get confused by the whole time travel paradox.  Frequently, time travel books go into a lot of complicated details and generally lose me somewhere along the way.

However, that was not the case with this novel.  At no point did it get overly convoluted.  It was simply a good story - adventure and romance, with time travel at it’s core which I think worked very well.  The story was engaging and the characters likeable and interesting.  I would have liked to see the main characters develop a little more but I guess I shall have to wait until the next book for that.

It had enough twists and turns in the story to keep it moving along.  The chapters are short, pithy and the book is fast paced and action packed.

Overall, this was a good fun read.  It reads like Wilbur Smith meets Dan Brown, adventurous in nature, short and snappy with time travel as it’s central theme which gives it that extra element.  This will appeal to fans of adventure, mystery and science fiction.

If you could go anywhere in time, would you visit the past or future?  I know what I would do!  How about you?


ISBN:  9780989662208

Publisher:  Garrett Smith Books

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk)  £9.26
This was gifted to me by the authors

Total saving so far:  £90.71

Friday, 6 December 2013

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne

28th July 1914 is Alfie Summerfield’s fifth birthday.  It is also the day that World War One begins and Alfie’s father promises him that he won’t join up.  The next day he breaks that promise and goes to war assuring Alfie that he will be home for Christmas.  Four years later his dad’s letters have stopped and Alfie is told that his dad has been sent away on a secret government mission.

Alfie believes in ‘doing his bit’ for the war and has taken up shining shoes at King’s Cross Station to earn a few extra pennies for his mum.  One day a customer drops a stack of papers which Alfie helps him retrieve and unexpectedly finds out exactly what has happened to his dad!

I have been a fan of John Boyne ever since I read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and this book further illustrates what a skilled writer he is.  In this book he creates the story of one street in wartime Britain and each character is imbued with a personality that expresses what life must have been like for ordinary people during the uncertainty of wartime.

I really liked the way the book comes full circle.  It begins with his fifth birthday and concludes with his 13th birthday and along the way we see Alfie’s maturation during the difficult war years.  He is an adorable character who, like so many, missed out on much of their childhood and grew up very quickly because of the war.  However, John Boyne skilfully manages to portray Alfie’s childlike innocence  and adventurous spirit through his moving writing.  I was very touched by this particular paragraph:

“More than four years had passed since that day, but Alfie still thought about it all the time.  He was nine years old now and hadn’t had any birthday parties in the years in between.  But when he was going to sleep at night, he did his best to put together all the things he could remember about his family before they’d changed, because if he remembered them the way they used to be, then there was always the chance that one day they could be that way again.”

This novel is poignant, satisfying and ultimately uplifting.  It has a lot to say about the issues and attitudes of the time and portrays a difficult subject matter in a sensitive way.   It would be a wonderful book for older children and young people.  However, speaking as an ‘older child’ of a few decades, I enjoyed this very much and would recommend it for any age.

ISBN:  9780857532930

Publisher:  Doubleday

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk):  £7.69
This was a review copy from Random House Publisher

Total saving so far:   £81.45

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Emergence of Judy Taylor by Angela Jackson


Judy is married to her dependable husband, Oliver, and they appear to be very happy.  They have a close circle of friends, most of whom Judy has known since primary school and life trundles along in an uneventful fashion.  However, when she discovers a sinister lump and endures a barrage of medical tests she realises that it is time to re-evaluate her life.

She has some hard choices to make.  She knows that she wants a different life but does not know what form that will take.  Her decision to leave all she knows and head to Edinburgh is one that shocks her family and friends to the core.  Amidst all her confusion, will Judy be able to decide what it is she is looking for and ultimately achieve it?

The characters in this book are very strong.  The main character, Judy, is well rounded and many of her thoughts and actions will resonate with lots of readers.  On the one hand, her decision to leave her husband and family could appear selfish and lacking in feeling for those she has left behind.  On the other hand,  she demonstrates a strength of character that is to be admired and demonstrates much courage in her decision.

The author has a lovely writing style and manages to bring quite minor characters to life.  When Lily, who Judy meets in Edinburgh, talks about the loss of her husband I found this deeply moving.  For just this short time, the author moved from Judy’s voice to Lily’s and it was very powerful and demonstrated great skill.

I thought this book was fantastic and I loved it.  It is thought provoking, observant and sensitive whilst demonstrating humour.  It is about the consequences of the decisions we make on ourselves and others.  It’s about loss, death and heartbreak but ultimately, it is a book about life and living it the best way we can.

I am very impressed by this debut novel and I am looking forward to reading more from Angela Jackson. She is a new writer to watch and if this book is anything to judge by, will produce some outstanding writing.


ISBN:  9781472101655

Publisher:  Canvas

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk):  £4.95

Total saving to date:  £73.76

Monday, 2 December 2013

Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon

When Detective Chief Inspector Maigret is alerted by the International Police that the criminal known as Pietr the Latvian is headed towards Paris by train it looks like a simple case of observing his movements.  However, things do not turn out as expected and Pietr proves to be an elusive character whom Maigret pursues around Paris.  Maigret is confounded by a mountain of circumstantial evidence and mixed identities in this novel which is set in Paris between the wars.

This is very much an introduction to Maigret and the main intention of the book is for us to learn about him as a character.  The plot felt secondary to this but was enjoyable enough to keep my interest and I was certainly intrigued to find out how it would end and I wasn‘t disappointed by it.  It’s a short book which does not take itself too seriously.  It’s also good fun to read and serves as an enjoyable introduction to the main character who has the ability to “impose himself just by standing there.”

I have a soft spot for the Maigret series as when I first graduated from the children’s library and became the proud owner of a ticket to the adult library, one of the Maigret novels was the first book I ever borrowed from the adult library.  Of course, I felt incredibly grown up and sophisticated and I’m not going to admit just how long ago that was, but suffice to say, that a few decades have passed since I first discovered the taciturn Detective Chief Inspector Maigret and I thoroughly enjoyed my re-acquaintance with him in this book.

This is a new translation by David Bellos.  Penguin are re-releasing the whole set of Maigret books at a rate of one per month.  George Simenon wrote 70 books in this series so this is quite an undertaking on their part but one that I am sure will be worthwhile as the Maigret books are well worth reading.  I am certainly looking forward to my further acquaintance with them.  New readers to these books will also enjoy watching the development of Maigret.  A good book for old and new audiences alike.

ISBN:  9780141392738

Publisher:  Penguin Classics

Price (based on today’s price on Amazon.co.uk):   £5.24
This was a review copy from Penguin.

Total saving so far:   £68.81

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Jephte's Daughter by Naomi Ragen

Beautiful and indulged Batsheva is the sole heir of the Ha-Levi dynasty whose followers are the orthodox Hassidic community.  As such she is bound by tradition and grows up in a closed but wealthy environment in California.

Only 18 years of age, her adored father chooses a husband for her; an Hassidic scholar from Jerusalem who he is certain is the right choice to continue the Ha-Levi line.  As she moves to Jerusalem as a young bride, Batsheva thinks she has found a life of excitement and romance.  She is soon disillusioned as her husband’s view of marriage is vastly different from her own.  As she grieves for her lost dreams she continues to hope for escape from the prison that has become her life.

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand it was an interesting portrayal of the author’s view of a strict Hassidic community whilst on the other hand, some of the characters and situations just felt completely unrealistic to me.  I don’t want to give specific examples as I don’t wish to give the plot away but suffice to say, the book seemed to have two very distinct halves.

The first part concentrates on Batsheva’s life as the indulged daughter of a wealthy business man in California.  She is portrayed as a typical American Jewish princess who is spoiled and pampered.  She is so happy and full of life, so naïve and innocent that to me, as a reader, it was pretty obvious that she was being set up for a fall.  As she moves to Jerusalem with her new husband it quickly becomes obvious what form that fall will take and it was clear to see that her husband was not a man of religion and Jewish law but a bully and a control freak.  At this point, the book really had something to say.

However, when we get to the second half of the book it just sort of degenerates into a very average plot line although it picks up slightly nearer to the end.  I particularly found the character of David to be completely unbelievable and there were far too many coincidences for the plot to pull together neatly for me.  Whilst, I had ravenously read the first half I was having to make a lot more effort with the second half.

Putting all of those comments to one side for the moment, I adored Naomi Ragen’s beautiful descriptions of the sights and sounds of Israel.  She is an American who now lives in Jerusalem and her passion for her surroundings is reflected in her writing.  She was certainly able to transport this humble reader to an exotic landscape and left me longing to pack my bags and visit Jerusalem at the first opportunity.

Although this review sounds rather negative I did actually enjoy most of the book and would certainly consider reading another book by this author.  I always struggle with books that portray characters as stereotypes and this bothered me quite alot when reading this.  However, parts of it were fascinating and evocative of time and place and I liked it very much for those reasons.  This was the author’s first book and I would really like to read more of her to see how she has progressed as a writer.

ISBN:  978-0312570231

Publisher:  Macmillan

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.com):  $11.64 / £7.19
This only seems to be available in the UK from Market Place sellers but is readily available in the US.  I borrowed this copy from a friend.

Total saving so far:  £63.57

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young

It’s 1907 when young Riley Purefoy is hit by a snowball in Kensington Gardens, London and falls into an icy pond. This is the start of a strong friendship between him and Nadine Waverley, whose family are of a different class to Riley and who take control of their relationship to prevent it from developing into anything deeper.  Then in 1918, in a fit of anger, Riley enlists and goes off to fight without even saying goodbye.

Major Peter Locke also leaves his vulnerable wife, Julia, to be an officer.  However, he leaves Julia in the safe Kent countryside watched over by his capable cousin, Rose, who joins the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and nurses those casualties returned from the front at Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup.

The lives of these two men become intertwined in the trenches of France and their post-war lives are changed forever.

I was instantly drawn into this story by the intelligent prose of the Prologue which sets the scene, introduces the characters and establishes the main theme of the book right at the outset.  An explosion takes place on the battlefields of France and Louisa Young demonstrates the ripple effect of this through a series of short paragraphs illustrating the thoughts of those who hear it both in France and across the Channel.

It’s this ripple effect that I felt was one of the main themes of this book.  That the effects of war reach  much further than the soldiers themselves and extends to those whose involvement is far away from the battlefields and trenches.  Young men went to war and came back changed.  This also had significant repercussions on those left behind and reunions were not necessarily as had been hoped for, as the men who returned were not the same of those who had left.

This is also a story of love and of the class distinctions which existed prior to World War I.  It was interesting to read the reactions of both families to Riley trying to ‘better’ himself.  For me, it also raised questions as to whether the war changed attitudes to class?

This was much more than a book about war and love as it was thought provoking and informative.  The descriptions of the pioneering work being carried out at the Queens Hospital in Sidcup inspired me to find out more about it.  Any novel that makes me stop, think and research further has a lot to offer.  I’ve read quite a lot of novels set around World War I and in my opinion, this is one of the best.

ISBN:  9780007361441

Publisher:  Harper

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon):  £ 3.86
I already had this book on my shelves

Total saving so far:  £56.38

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The World is a Wedding by Wendy Jones

Wilfred Price, surveyor of superior funerals, has lived in Narberth, five miles from the Pembrokeshire coast, all of his life.  It is 1926 and Wilfred now lives there with his father and new wife and the prospect of fatherhood is looming.  As Wilfred prepares himself for this life changing event in his own unique style, the past continues to haunt him.

Following his brief and annulled marriage to Grace, she has fled to London in order to escape her past but she has taken with her a secret which will not be left behind.

Last year I read The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals which I thoroughly enjoyed and this is an equally wonderful sequel.  However, I would recommend reading the prequel first.  Although, this would probably work as a stand alone book, prior knowledge of the characters and their background vastly enhances the reading of this one.

I have fallen in love with Wilfred.  As a character he is no Mr Darcy, but he is kind, generous and sweet natured and I would challenge anyone to read this book and not be somewhat smitten with him.

Wendy Jones has a good grasp of what a novel needs.  This is an amusing and affectionate story told whilst tackling some important and difficult themes and the author has the ability to present them through a light hearted prose without trivialising them.

She also places the novel very well in it’s period through Grace’s involvement with the Suffragette movement and the attitudes and perceptions that Grace was forced to encounter.  It’s a lovely little time piece which places the reader squarely into a 1920’s Welsh village recovering from WWI.

This book is set to become an indulgence read for me.  You know, the kind of thing that you return to time and again when you want a bit of comfort time.  Picture the scene; the busyness of the week has finally passed, a pot of tea is brewing and I’m in my pyjamas.  Now I can just sink into my sofa and indulge myself with this lovely book.  And it’s one I intend to indulge myself in again as it is such a delightful read that I know I will want to return to it along with it’s prequel.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to spoil themselves a little.  So, get the teapot warming, kick off your shoes and sit back and indulge yourself in the world of Wilfred Price.


ISBN:   978-1-78033-379-3

Publisher:  Corsair

Price (based on today’s price on Amazon):  £8.76
This was a review copy sent to me by the publisher.

Total saving so far:  £52.52

Monday, 11 November 2013

Scapegallows by Carol Birch

Margaret Catchpole was born in Suffolk in the late 1700’s where smuggling was rife and life itself was dangerous.  She is a decent hard-working girl;  a loyal servant in a respectable and wealthy family. However, Margaret is also friends with criminals and her duplicitous life will ultimately lead to her downfall.  For Margaret is eventually arrested and sentenced to death on two occasions before being reprieved and transported to Australia.

This is a fascinating fictional account of the real life Margaret Catchpole who was transported to Australia for theft and escaping from Ipswich Gaol.  There she made a life for herself before she died there in 1819.

Carol Birch has clearly researched this book very carefully and I admire this is an author.  However, it is her story telling skills which make this book such a worthwhile read.  There are times when the narrative gently unfolds like a 19th century classic.  It’s descriptive, atmospheric and detailed.  At other times, it’s an exciting action packed adventure story which kept me up late turning the pages.

The story focuses largely on Margaret’s life in Suffolk and the friendships and relationships that she formed during her life there and which are integral to the story in demonstrating how she came to progress from being a respectable girl to cavorting with criminals and her eventual sentences of execution and transportation.

I enjoyed this narrative of her life before imprisonment.  Margaret was a very likeable character and the author has done a good job in making her a well rounded character through investing the time to enable the reader to get to know Margaret and her world.

This is not the first tale of a good woman who comes to grief for the love of a man and I don’t suppose it will be the last but Margaret’s story has been written with empathy and understanding as well as objectivity and the author had been able to write this with both attributes side by side which make for a realistic fictionalised retelling of the story of Margaret Catchpole.

If you like historical fiction or books based on real life characters then I recommend this book.



ISBN:  978-1-84408-391-6

Published by:  Virago

Price (based on today's cost at Amazon.co.uk):   £7.19
I borrowed this book from my local library.

Total saved so far:  £43.76

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

The Clippie Girls by Margaret Dickinson

Set in Sheffield in 1939, the book opens with the family huddled around their Bakelite wireless listening to Chamberlain declaring war.  The story focuses on three generations of women (Grace, Mary, Peggy, Rose and Myrtle), all living in the same house and who have to pull together through the hardships of wartime Britain.  The war affords the women new employment opportunities which would not have been possible before and thus, Mary, Peggy and Rose all become conductresses, also known as clippies, on the trams.

In December 1940 Sheffield experienced an onslaught of bombing and the author cleverly uses this real life event around which to set her story.  The tram on which Peggy is working is caught up in a bomb blast; the consequences of which are life changing and will alter the relationship between the whole family. Although she is injured herself, Peggy’s priority is to ensure the safety of her passengers.  She is aided by a good looking soldier and a relationship quickly forms between the two.  When he is posted abroad, the level headed Peggy, who everyone looks up to, discovers that she is pregnant.

The relationship between the three sisters, their mother and their matriarchal grandmother are excellently portrayed and I felt like I actually knew these people.  The dialogue is well executed and through which the attitudes of the time are well illustrated.  I whizzed through this in a couple of days as I was so involved with the characters and the story.

I have previously read a handful of family sagas but I certainly wouldn't go so far as to say it is my usual kind of thing.  However, my sister was a clippie on the London Transport buses during the 1970’s so this book caught my eye.  Eight years my senior she was my role model in all things and as her ‘little sister’ I used to get to sit on the bus for the entire route watching my glamorous big sister in her smart uniform doling out tickets from the ticket machine that was attached to her waist.  So, when I saw this book some time ago I couldn’t resist buying it for no other reason than the happy memories it invoked.

I‘m very glad that I did purchase this book for although  the storyline was a little predictable at times, it was a quick, easy read with a feel good factor at the end and was a very nice way to spend a wet and windy weekend.   Anyone who enjoys a family saga will enjoy this book.

ISBN:  978-0330544313

Publisher:  Pan

Price:  £3.85 (based on today's price at Amazon.co.uk)
This was a book I previously owned.

Total saving so far:    £36.57

Friday, 1 November 2013

For the Sake of Elena by Elizabeth George

Elena Weaver, a student at St Stephen’s College, Cambridge was beautiful, vivacious and accomplished.  That is until she was bludgeoned to death whilst out jogging one foggy morning along the banks of the River Cam.

Called to Cambridge from Scotland Yard, Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sergeant Barbara Havers are called in to investigate.

I read the first of the Inspector Lynley books, A Great Deliverance, about three years ago and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it.  Consequently, I have accumulated a few others since then that have been gathering dust on my shelf , including this one, just waiting for me to turn my attention to them.
I’d forgotten just how good the characters are.  In fact it is Elizabeth George’s characterization skills which make her books so compelling.  I found myself flitting between liking and loathing some of the characters involved in the investigation.  It takes great skill as a writer to make characters as thought provoking as this. I've read many novels of this genre over the years and so many contain characters that fall into the good guy/bad guy method of characterisation.

Here, Elizabeth George gives us something far deeper in terms of both plot and character.  Her writing is intelligent and her plots are intricate. The partnership between the suave, public school educated, Inspector Lynley and his down to earth, Sergeant Havers is just wonderful.  The glimpses into their private lives, alongside the investigation makes them very real characters and my heart ached for the situation that Barbara Havers found herself in with her mother.

This is more than a simple whodunnit.  It deals with themes of love and loss and the living up to the expectations of others.  An excellent read and one that I would highly recommend.


ISBN:  978-1444738308

Published by:  Hodder Paperbacks

Price:  £5.75
This book was one that I previously owned.

Total saving so far:  £32.72

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Unveiling by Stefan Alford

When 13 year old Jake Lawton accidentally stumbles across a gang of boys beating up a younger negro boy he intervenes and to his own surprise not only defends him, sending the whole gang running but consequently saves the boy.  Even more surprisingly, he then murders the negro boy that he has just saved by strangling him.  Claiming to be prompted by a German soldier called Matthias who was actually Jake in a previous life he is incarcerated in a lunatic asylum where he comes to understand more about his situation.

This is a story about reincarnation and is original and interesting.  The premise of the book is that reincarnation formed the original teachings of Christianity but has been suppressed by the church during subsequent centuries. Therefore, we see Jake progress through previous and future reincarnations and the connectivity between them.

The preface itself contained quite a shocking and macabre opening scene and certainly grabbed my attention.  I found it was worth rereading the preface once I had finished the book as I struggled to connect the opening which is set in the year 533 with the remainder of the book.  However, once I’d finished the book it became clear and the preface made a lot more sense within the context of the rest of the story.

I was particularly impressed with how Stefan Alford was able to cleverly speak simultaneously through the voice of a child, a teenager and a man.  No easy feat when we remember that often the voice is a man in a child’s body and Alford skilfully handled this literary juggling act.

The last couple of books that I’ve read have been rather sombre reads.  Therefore, this book was just the ticket to lighten my reading a little.  It has the  flavour of The Da Vinci Code and would appeal to any reader who likes their novels to contain mystery, religious conspiracies and secret societies.  This book has the lot and is a fast and exciting read whilst being both thought provoking and entertaining at the same time.

I acquired this book as a free kindle download and it was great for a freebie.  There is a paperback version of this book available but the kindle version now costs £2 on Amazon and I would suggest that anyone who pays that for this book will not be disappointed.

ISBN:  978-1105575693

Published by:  Lulu.com

Kindle Price:  £2 (as of today's date)
This was a free kindle download from Amazon on 13th July 2012.

Total saving so far:  £26.97

Monday, 21 October 2013

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Published in 1963 this book hardly needs reviewing as it‘s been part of the modern classic canon for a long time.  It is the story of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, who is serving an eight year prison sentence in a Soviet labour camp after being accused of being a spy during WWII.  The novel is set during a single day of his internment and demonstrates to us what an ordinary day was like for Soviet prisoners.

Reading this book made me think a lot about the subjectivity of book reviewing.  After all, any review is only the opinion of the person writing it.  I might love a book which you might hate and vice versa.

I took a little stroll down memory lane when reading this.  I remember when I was a teenager I dated a sweet boy from Kent who loved this book.  He read it several times and raved about it endlessly.  We lost touch several decades ago but I’ve always had it in the back on my mind to read this book.

More recently, my son read this book.  His reaction was pretty much the same as the boy I dated.  He enthused about this book and insisted I read it.  So, approximately four decades after originally being encouraged to read it I finally did.

I so wanted to like it, I really did but it just did nothing for me.  I think I only persevered because it was only 143 pages and my son may never have forgiven me if I didn’t.

Clearly, many people love this book and therefore have merit but it just didn’t work for me.  However, don’t take my word for it.  Read it for yourself and do let me know what you thought.  Or if you’ve already read this I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

My son has gone on to read other works by Solzhenitsyn.  I think when he offers to loan me those I might just decline.


ISBN:  978-0-141-18474-6

Published by:  Penguin Books

Book Price:  £7.99
This was loaned to me by my son.

Total saving so far:  £24.97

Friday, 18 October 2013

Piano Angel by Esther Woolfson

Mark Blum left his native Glasgow for a life in New York.  However, following the recurrence of a brain tumour he decides to return to Glasgow to be with his brother, Dan, with whom he has had little contact over the years.  There is clearly some enmity and resentment in the brothers relationship which originates from their friendship with Anci Goldmann, a Hungarian refugee who their family sheltered following the siege of Budapest in 1945.

The story begins with Dan dealing with the aftermath of Mark’s death.  However, the following chapter is set two years previously when Mark is first diagnosed with his brain tumour and is narrated by him.  The narrations vary between Dan, Mark and Anci which gives a wonderful multi perspective to the events and recollections of the story both of the past and present.

We are tantalized along the way with what has caused the rift between the two brothers and what part Anci played in this.  Over 40 years have passed since they lost regular contact so we can assume that the cause was of some significance and little hints are dropped along the way.

This is a thoroughly well thought out and beautifully written novel.  The prose is tightly packed and poignant throughout.  Not a word has been wasted and the prose has a lyrical, almost poetic feel.  I found myself re-reading parts of this simply for the beauty of the language.  Woolfson’s prose is very illustrative of her meaning.  For example, she describes a necklace belonging to a minor character as “a perfect sliver of distilled chill” and thus succinctly sums up Dan’s view of the character in question.

It is clear from the outset that this is not going to be a light entertaining read.  It deals with difficult subject matter but Woolfson handles this is a very empathetic and gentle manner.  There are very few books which make me cry and as expected as Mark’s death at the conclusion of this book was, I must confess to shedding a few tears.

My only slight criticism of this book is the Anci chapters.  She did not feel as real a character to me as Mark and Dan did and consequently when she is telling her back-story it sometimes felt like I was reading a history textbook.  However, the book was so successful for me overall that this was a minor issue.

Periodically, I had to pause to absorb the emotion in the beautiful prose before I could continue.  Every line, every paragraph had a precision that deserved time and absorption and I needed to stop to read and then read again in order to ingest the beauty and poignancy of the language.  This is not a novel to rush through but one to savour.  I enjoyed reading this book very much.  It deserves a wide readership and I hope lots of you will read it.



ISBN:  978-1-906120-34-4

Published by:  Two Ravens Press

Book price:  £9.99 (paperback)  Unfortunately, this book is currently out of print from the publishers but there are copies available through online book retailers.  I borrowed my copy from the library so it is worth checking there.

Total saving so far:  £16.98


Friday, 11 October 2013

Cross My Heart by Carmen Reid


Carmen Reid, who is more popularly known for her chick lit novels has made an excellent departure from her usual genre.  Here she has written an historical novel for young adults which is packed full with excitement, danger and is also touchingly moving.

Nicole de Wilde, known to her family and friends as Nico, is 15 when the Nazi’s invade Brussels in 1940.   She is a naive and innocent teenager who is forced to grow up very quickly in response to her circumstances.  A tenacious young woman who learn that she is not too young to stand up for what she believes.  Joining a group of freedom fighters we see her grow from a child to a desperately determined young woman whose personal resolve will be her greatest weapon.

The character of Nicole is what make this book work so well.  A good, well-rounded character I found myself rooting for her on every page.  Her journey is a tough one and Reid paints a realistic picture of Nicole’s maturation.  Based on real life stories of teenagers involved in Resistance activities the author has paid tribute to these young heroes and heroines of the Belgian Resistance through the character of Nicole.

There is no let up in the action packed pages in this book.  However, it is also touchingly moving and I could feel her emotions leap off the page through the often-times, horrendous situations that she finds herself in.  One small sentence which has stuck in my mind is when she says, “ I cry because no one can bear to see their father cry.”  Bearing in mind all that Nicole has gone through up to this point in the novel it is so often the small matters that weaken our strength and I loved Nicole all the more for this realistic emotion.

The Afterword in the book, My Grandparents’ War, describes the wartime experiences of the authors grandparents, one of whom was English and the other German.  This personal faceted viewpoint has enabled her to write a well-rounded story.

We are all familiar with novels centred around WWII and the ensuing atrocities which took place but I believe that this book brings something new to our knowledge-base through the eyes of the young people of the Belgian Resistance.  This is a story of immense heroism and hope and is well worth reading.

ISBN:  978-0-552-56701-5

Published by:  Corgi Books

Book Price:  £6.99 (paperback).
This was sent to me as a review copy from Random House Publishing.

 Total saving so far:  £6.99


Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Journey Begins..............

Hello and welcome to the first post on my blog.

I am very excited to be writing this blog.  I have been a very keen reader since I was a child and my passion and enthusiasm for books has never waned.  However, we live in difficult and austere times; money is tight for most people and many of us cannot afford to buy the number of books that we used to.  However, I have accumulated a number over the years with my “I’ll read it one day” mentality.  That ‘one day’ has now arrived and I am planning on having a one year buying freeze without reading any less books than I normally do.  In order to keep up my reading habits  (some might call it an addiction) my aim is to only read books that I already own or come to me for free.

I think this will be an interesting and exciting journey and I shall be reviewing the books that I read as I go along.  I also think it will be fun to count the pennies saved to see how much money I have saved by the end of the year.

Thank you for reading my first posting and I hope that you will enjoy my book reviews.