Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Top Ten Books of 2014

I have had a great year of reading this year and I hope you have enjoyed reading my thoughts on the books that I have read. I always like to take this retrospective look at the end of the year and remind myself just how many great books that there are out there and that I have had the privilege of reading.

In fact, I had 13 books that I thought were worthy of making it into this list but I made myself confine it to 10.

So, in no particular order, here are my 10 favourtie books of 2014.




Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Disobedience by Naomi Alderman
In Pale Battalions by Robert Goddard
Blessings by Anna Quindlen
Stoner by John Williams
What Was Promised by Tobias Hill
The Boy That Never Was by Karen Perry
Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas



Christmas Eve has arrived and I wanted to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and to say thank you for reading my blog this past year. I love being able to share my reading with you all and am looking forward to doing so again in this coming year.

I will be back next week with my Top Ten Books for 2014.

I hope you all find that you made it onto Santa's good list and that you find lots of lovely reading material in your stocking tomorrow.

Have fun and happy Christmas to you all.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope

Alice Vavasor  is young, of independent means and marriageable. In turns she becomes engaged to her cousin, George, who is ambitious and reckless; and John Grey, handsome and gentlamenly. However, Alice is struggling with the idea of tying herself down to either man.

Her cousin, Glencora, has been coerced into marrying the wealthy Plantageant  Palliser. Alice is determined that she will not be pushed into marriage simply because society dictates.

However, Alice struggles to forgive herself for vacillitating between the two men. How will Alice find happiness if she is so determined to go against the moral code of the day? Has she really been fair to either of these men? Questions that she asks herself and that Anthony Trollope asks the reader.

The best thing about reading this book is the knowledge that this is the first of five books in the Palliser series as I really loved it and am excited to get reading the second in the series, Phineas Finn. What I particularly like about this book is the way that Trollope speaks directly to the reader; posing questions and therefore, making the reader stop and think along the way. This is not a passive novel but one that the author encourages the reader to be a part of.

The characters in the book are wonderful and Trollope has drawn this cast in a way that makes all the characters completely believable. The wealthy widow, Mrs Greenhow, is an amusing character with whom the author clearly had fun with as he created her on the page. Glencora Palliser, who is excitable and in love with a man not her husband and Alice Vavosaur who is her own worst critic.

Mr Trollope also tackles some interesting themes of the period drawing on the fact that societal norms dictated that women would be married and mothers and roles outside of this sphere went against the moral code of the day.

This is a long novel and even though I was itching to get back to it at every possible opportunity it has still taken me a couple of weeks to get through. However, I think that it’s length is what enabled me to become so engrossed in the plot and engaged with the characters.

If you have not already read this book then I highly recommend it. It makes lovely entertaining reading and I am looking forward to continuing with this series in the New Year.

ISBN:   9780140430868


Publisher: Penguin Classics

About the Author: 

Anthony Trollope became one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of Trollope's best-loved works, known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, revolve around the imaginary county of Barsetshire; he also wrote penetrating novels on political, social, and gender issues and conflicts of his day.

Trollope has always been a popular novelist. Noted fans have included Sir Alec Guinness (who never travelled without a Trollope novel), former British Prime Ministers Harold Macmillan and Sir John Major, economist John Kenneth Galbraith, American novelists Sue Grafton and Dominick Dunne and soap opera writer Harding Lemay. Trollope's literary reputation dipped somewhat during the last years of his life, but he regained the esteem of critics by the mid-twentieth century. (author information from Goodreads.com)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Rosa by Jonathan Rabb

Set in Berlin just after WWI, a Socialist revolution is sweeping across the whole of Germany. For Detective Inspector Nikolai Hoffner and his assistant Hans Fichte their attention is being taken up by the murders of six women from the slums that have identical markings carved into their backs.

When one of these women turns out to be the socialist revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg, the Polpo (political police) start to take an interest. Will their involvement help or hinder Hoffner and Fichte in their investigations? Neither man can envisage the road that lays ahead for them as this case takes a troubling and personal turn.

The author has done his research very well and thus presents us with a Berlin which is rich in atmosphere but is only portrayed in the bleakest of terms. At no point was I able to see any hope for the future within the book which made it a rather depressing read. However, Mr. Rabb has tried to portray a post war Berlin which has become a political battleground and he does this very well.

I can’t say that I really liked any of the characters. They were interesting and well developed but I did not seem able to find any kind of connection with them and this always gives me a problem in a novel.

The plot was interesting and detailed and did keep me guessing but still there was something lacking for me. Perhaps because the whole book is so bogged down in misery reading it became hard work and I was not finding myself rushing to get back to it. It lacked any hint of optimism throughout and consequently, I found that this essentially well thought out and soundly written book was something of a slog to get through.

I do not think there is anything wrong with this book per se and I think many people will enjoy this dark tale of politics and murder. It simply was not my cup of tea.

This is the first book in the Berlin Trilogy but I will be calling it a day with this one. Please let me know your thoughts on this book if you have read it. I would be really interested to hear what you thought of it.

ISBN: 978 1905559046

Publisher: Halban Publishers

Price (today at Amazon.co.uk): £9.99


About the author:  

Jonathan Rabb is the author of five novels: The Second Son, Shadow and Light, Rosa, The Overseer, and The Book of Q. He lives in Savannah, Georgia, with his wife and twin children.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

This is the story of Dorrigo Evans, a surgeon. His sole purpose in life is to survive and to use his medical knowledge to help the men around him to do the same. Dorrigo is a POW in Japan, slaving on the building of the Burma Death Railway.


Dorrigo is also  haunted by the love affair he had with the young wife of his uncle. As he clings to these memories amidst chaos and devastation, his whole future is being defined by the death and destruction around him:

Forever after, there were for them only two sorts of men: the men who were on the Line, and the rest of humanity, who were not."

This is a very worthy winner of this years Man Booker Prize and is one of the most powerful  novels I have read in quite some time and I am certain that it will stay with me for a long time. It’s intensity is unrelenting and I was completely gripped by this book.

This book is devastatingly beautiful. In so many ways it is not a pretty read. It describes the horrors of life as a POW; dysentery, cholera, beatings  etc but is composed in such a profound and unassuming style that I was completely entranced by this book. On several occasions I had to just stop reading  to contemplate and absorb what I had read and allow the horror and simplicity of the words sink in.

The characters in this book are vividly drawn, flaws and all, and I found myself empathising with most of them. Even those characters who do not play a large part in the book, Mr. Flanagan was able to bring them to life in such a way as they became integral to the plot.

The themes of this book are many and it is hard to pin them  down to a few words; love, loss, war, friendship, despair. The list could go on but suffice to say that the book considers war and it’s aftermath on the lives of ordinary people.

Mr Flanagan’s father was himself a POW on the Death Railway and the author has based much of this work on his father’s first hand experiences. This has enabled him to write a novel which is unflinchingly honest and filled with humanity.

This is a stunning book and easily one of the best I have read. The author is  a very deserving winner of the Man Booker prize and  I am very keen to look out some other of his books. I recommend this book very highly and encourage you all to read this for yourselves.

ISBN: 978-0701189051

Publisher: Chatto and Windus

Price: £10.99 on Amazon.co.uk

About the Author: 

Born in Tasmania in 1961, Richard Flanagan is one of Australia’s leading novelists. His novels, Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould's Book of Fish (winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize),The Unknown Terrorist and Wanting have received numerous honours and been published in 26 countries. His father, who died the day Flanagan finished The Narrow Road to the Deep North, was a survivor of the Burma Death Railway.



Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Died of Wounds by Siegfried Sassoon

DIED OF WOUNDS

His wet white face and miserable eyes
Brought nurses to him more than groans and sighs;
But hoarse and low and rapid rose and fell
His troubled voice: he did the business well.

The ward grew dark; but he was still complaining
And calling out for 'Dickie'. 'Curse the Wood!
It's time to go, O Christ, and what's the good?
We'll never take it, and it's always raining.'

I wondered where he'd been; then heard him shout,
'They snipe like hell! O Dickie, don't go out'...
I fell asleep.... Next morning he was dead;
And some Slight Wound lay smiling on the bed.

by Siegried Sassoon


About the poet:   

Siegried Sassoon was born on the 8th September 1886. He was a poet, writer, and soldier and was decorated for bravery on the Western Front. 

Sassoon became a focal point for dissent within the armed forces when he made a lone protest against the continuation of the war in his "Soldier's Declaration" of 1917, culminating in his admission to a mental hospital; this resulted in his forming a friendship with Wilfred Owen, who was greatly influenced by him. Sassoon later won acclaim for his prose work, notably his three-volume fictionalised autobiography, collectively known as the "Sherston Trilogy".

He died,  aged 80, on 1st September 1967 of stomach cancer.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop

Set in 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the place to be seen. It is a beautiful Mediterranean retreat for the jet set to bathe in the glow of their good fortune.

It is also home to both Greek and Turkish Cypriots who live and work side by side. Aphroditi and Savvas Papacosta have opened the most luxurious hotel on the island. All their wealth has been poured into this hotel and their employees include both Greek and Turkish Cypriots who have previously escaped the unrest that previously swept through Cyprus.

However, in this golden paradise tensions are building as another violent conflict takes place. Families flee the island and only two families are left behind. Only the Georgious and the Oskans remain, refusing to flee their homes. Can they survive secretly on this broken island or will they be discovered by rapidly advancing soldiers?

This novel is based on true events and considers the lives of fictional individuals who lived and worked in Famagusta during the uprising. I found this book very elucidating through her portrayal of this aspect of Cypriot history. Even though these events occurred during my life time I knew very little about this devastating time in history.

Ms. Hislop portrays these terrible events in a a manner which enabled me to understand the impact the event had on individual people. She has written a novel which is highly atmospheric both in it’s descriptions of the place and  it’s people. Her portrayal of the wealth of the The Sunrise Hotel along with her descriptions of the beauty of the island turned words on a page into a tangible experience.

The plot moves along at a suitable pace for the story and I was gripped by both the narrative and characters. The author has taken a horrible series of events and made them palatable. However, she has not steered away from the violence and reality of the situation but has contrasted the beauty of the island and it’s people with the terror  of the events happening around them.

All in all I think the author has done a good job in portraying this particular period in history. Perhaps, like me, it is a past time that you understand little about. I think that she has created a perfect springboard to finding out about the events in Famagusta, which stands like a ghost town to this day. I think if reading this book encourages people to seek out a less fictionalised account then Ms Hislop has done her job and done it well. Personally, I love books where the subject matter refuses to be left when I close the book and this book has certainly ignited my interest in this period of Cypriot history.

ISBN:  978-0755377787

Publisher: Headline Review

Price: £9.00 on Amazon.co.uk


About the author:  

Following a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony, Victoria Hislop wrote The Island in 2005. It became a best seller and was published in 30 languages. She was named Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards in 2007.

She went on to write The Return followed by The Thread and a set of short stories called The Last Dance and Other Stories. The Sunrise is her fourth novel.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Penguin Book of Witches - Ed. by Katherine Howe

This is a collection of real-life accounts of witchcraft starting with witches in the Bible and going right through to early modern England and colonial America.

From a manual for witch hunters written by King James in 1597, to court documents from the Salem witch trials of 1692 to newspaper coverage of a woman stoned to death on the streets of Philadelphia while the Continental Congress met, this is a treasury of historical accounts of accused witches that sheds light on the reality behind the legends. Bringing to life stories like that of Eunice Cole, tried for attacking a teenage girl with a rock and buried with a stake through her heart; Jane Jacobs, a Bostonian so often accused of witchcraft that she took her tormentors to court on charges of slander; and Increase Mather, an exorcism-performing minister famed for his knowledge of witches, this volume provides a unique tour through the darkest history of English and North American witchcraft. (text taken from Penguin Classics.)

With Halloween just around the corner I was in the mood for something a little bit spooky. However, I am not a fan of the horror genre so this collection of primary sources collated by Katherine Howe was exactly what I was looking for. Katherine is the author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane which I read back in 2010 and really enjoyed.

She has annotated each chapter with insightful notes and explains the role witchcraft and cunning folk had in a medieval society. I enjoyed the way that she differentiates between superstition and morality in both English and American society.

I found it really interesting to chronologically move from Biblical accounts of witches right through to our current perception of witches complete in Halloween garb donned with a black pointy hat and broomstick. Ms Howe had put together a series of excellent first hand accounts and then leaves us to make our own judgement on witchcraft.

Incidentally, Bridget Bishop, who appears in the All Souls trilogy, A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night and The Book of Life, as Diana Bishop’s ancestor is also in this  book and her examination prior to her execution in Salem is also contained in this volume.

A comprehensive collection that has been well researched and is presented intelligently and will help readers to understand the phenomenon that was witchcraft in history. Worth reading.

ISBN:  978 0143106180

Publisher: Penguin Classics


Price: £9.09

About the Author: 

Katherine Howe, the direct descendant of two accused Salem witches, is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. She lives in New England and teaches American colonial history and creative writing at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

Friday, 24 October 2014

One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Set in Moscow in 1945, Stalin is celebrating his victory over Hitler. But when shots ring out two teenagers lie dead on a nearby bridge. They are the offspring of Russia’s highest leaders and no one knows if this is murder, suicide or a conspiracy.

As answers are sought, the friends of the dead youngsters are questioned and a terrifying witch hunt begins. Do the parents of these young people have anything to hide and will they reveal secrets that their parents would prefer remained hidden?

This is the first novel that I have read by Simon Sebag Montefiore and I am fast developing a love affair with the work of the Montefiore family. Back in March I read The Summer House by Santa Montefiore, who is the wife of the author of this book, which I enjoyed every bit as much as I have this one.

It is evident from the scope of this book that Dr Montefiore has researched the background of this book thoroughly. He has written several non-fiction books including Young Stalin and it is obvious from this book that he is steeped in knowledge.

The plot is a labyrinth from start to finish and at no point did the tension ease up. I was gripped from the very beginning, not least because the author writes with such profound intelligence. Every single word was implicit to the story; every word of dialogue served to pull me further into the story.

I was also very moved by this novel. Some of the situations that the children found themselves in seem cruelly inexplicable and my heart also went out to the parents in this book. It takes immense skill as a writer to ensure a reader will engage with so many different characters within a book and the author is exceptionally skilled at this aspect of writing.

I often find myself confused by names when I read books set in Russia and my heart sank a little when I saw a glossary of characters at the beginning of this book as I felt it suggested that this would be equally confusing. However, whilst I found myself referring to it at the beginning of my reading I soon got to grips with who was who and was just immersed in the story.

This book was disturbing and entertaining in equal measure making for a hugely interesting, informative and intelligent read. I highly recommend this book and am looking forward to reading more work from this author.

ISBN: 978 0099580331

Publisher: Arrow

Price: £3.85 for the paperback version from Amazon.

About the Author:

Born in 1965 Simon Sebag Montefiore read history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, where he received his Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD).

Catherine the Great and Potemkin was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson, Duff Cooper, and Marsh Biography Prizes. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar won the History Book of the Year Prize at the British Book Awards. Young Stalin won the Costa Biography Award (UK), the LA Times Book Prize for Biography (US), Le Grand Prix de la BiographiePolitique (France) and the Kreisky Prize for Political Literature (Austria). Jerusalem: The Biography won the Jewish Book of the Year Prize, from the Jewish Book Council (USA). Dr Montefiore's books are published in forty languages. 

He is the author of the acclaimed novels Sashenka as well as One Night in Winter. 


His next major history book will be The Romanovs: Rise and Fall, 1613-1917, out in 2016 in hardback, 2017 in paperback, followed by The World: a Biography. Dr Montefiore wrote and presented the BBC television series Jerusalem: Making of a Holy City, Rome: History of the Eternal City and his latest, a history of Istanbul: Byzantium A Tale of 3 Cities. 

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Visiting Professor of Humanities at the University of Buckingham, he lives in London with his wife  and their two children. 

(Author information courtesy of www.simonsebagmontefiore.com)

Monday, 20 October 2014

Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson

Set in 1971 Richard Collier stumbles across an old photograph of an actress long dead. However, Richard becomes obsessed with this image and seeks to find out everything that he can about Elise McKenna and thus he falls in love with this woman from the past who he has never met.

Yet, this image draws him back to 1896 where he meets Elise and her associates but will he be able to find the love with Elise that he was imagining in 1971?

This is a classic story and was made into a film starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. I haven’t actually seen the film and I wonder if this might not flow better on the screen.

My reasons for suggesting this is that I really disliked the writing style of the first section of the book where the narrative is written in a kind of note form; short and sharp the way one might write a diary without the benefit of any adjectives or embellishments. However, I did like the plot. Obviously, it seemed implausible; the notion that one can will oneself back into the past was pure fantasy but created an interesting premise for the story of this book.

Most of all though I really disliked the way the characters were portrayed. Matheson may have been attempting to portray Elise as a celebrated actress but her performance as a character in this book I found decidedly wooden.

This book won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and won critical acclaim but it simply felt lacking something for me. It may simply be that I do not read a lot of fantasy novels but time travel stories always intrigue me and I found the plot of this book interesting enough.

I am actually very keen to watch the film now because, as I suggested earlier, I think this might transfer very well to the screen. I think the characters may well appear more well-rounded in the hands of Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.

If you enjoy fantasy or romance novels you may well enjoy this novel. Judging from the amount of positive reviews there are for this book it may well be that I missed the point somewhere along the line in reading this book. The plot was an interesting one and I am certainly willing to try other books of this genre. Any suggestions anyone?

ISBN: 978 0765361394

Publisher: Tor Books

Price: £5.99 for the paperback edition from Amazon.co.uk

Monday, 13 October 2014

Top 12 Books

When I began this blog 12 months ago I had no idea what a fantastic reading journey I was embarking on. As I have previously said, I have read some marvellous books during that time and I wanted to share my favourites with you. So, in no particular order, here are my favourite 12 along with links to my reviews:



Looking at this list now I can see that of these 12 only one is by an author I have previously read. That means I have discovered 11 new authors that I consider wrote excellent books. I think it is time to start reading some of their other books. Don't you agree?

Friday, 10 October 2014

One Year On......

Today is a special day in the life of this blog.

Exactly, one year ago I wrote up my first tentative posting and committed myself to not spending any money on books for the coming year. It was quite an undertaking for me to go an entire year without buying a single book. I’m delighted to say that I stuck to my promise unerringly and kept a running total of how much money I would have spent had I bought the books that I have read throughout the year and I am delighted to say that I have saved a whopping:

£373.74.

I am amazed by this total as I had not realised exactly what my reading habits were costing me!

The books I have read have come to me through a variety of ways; my wonderful local library, books which have been sitting on my shelves for ages, friends have loaned me books, publishers and authors have sent me books for review and my family and friends who have given me books as gifts for my birthday etc. I am very grateful to all those people who have contributed to my year of free reading in one way or another.

I also want to say a big thank you to all of you who have been reading this blog and to my followers and friends on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreadswho have made this such a fun experience. I have greatly enjoyed this challenge and sharing my thoughts on the books I have read with you all. As a consequence, I have discovered some great new authors and am looking forward to reading other books which they have written. Now that my year of literary abstinence is complete I am looking forward to investing in some of those books.

Initially, I committed to writing this blog for a year. However, I have so enjoyed the process that I would love to continue to share my thoughts on my reading with you all so I am intending to continue with the blog………but with a difference!

As well as book reviews I would love to share with you other items of literary interest including author bios and interviews, news of literary festivals, upcoming books etc. If you have any suggestions of what you would like me to include in this blog then please do let me know.


I would really like to kick off my second year of blogging by reading some of your favourite books. Do you have a favourite author? A favourite book? Please let me know by leaving a comment below and kick start my new year of blogging.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

Set in Paris in 1482 the story of Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre Dame, is a familiar one. He is shunned by all for his grotesque appearance until Esmeralda, the beautiful dancing gypsy, takes pity on him. So begins Quasimodo’s love for Esmerelda, but there are others who are watching her closely and whose motives are far more sinister.

I am always reluctant to review books that are classics as everything that needs to be said about them has essentially already been said by others and probably much more eloquently than I will.

This book was a re-read for me. I read it about 20 years ago immediately prior to taking my children to see the Disney film at the cinema and I can remember feeling incredibly moved by the novel and the ending has stayed with me ever since.

At the time, I had not seen the original film which was made in 1939. If you have watched either of these films it is essential to get those images out of your head prior to reading this. At no point does Quasimodo shout “The bells, the bells made me deaf” as depicted by Charles Laughton in the 1939 version of the film.

Neither can I begin to comprehend how the Disney Corporation took such a dark story and turned it into something suitable for children (although I must confess that I do love the film and have happy memories of watching this with my children.) However, in the book, Esmerelda is a 15 year old girl who is being lusted after and pursued by a priest. It was a huge undertaking to take this premise and turn it into something Disneyesque suitable for children. They were successful in this but largely at the expense of the essence of the story.

I have been afraid of re-reading this book because I loved it so much on my first reading and I was worried that my illusions would be shattered if I read it with the addition of two decades of life experience behind me. I recently explained this to my youngest son who went straight out, bought me a copy of the book and told me to read it again and see whether I felt the same.

I had forgotten how descriptive the book is. There are times where there are just pages and pages of descriptive prose that does get rather tiresome. The whole first section of the novel is devoted to describing the history of Paris. The language is incredibly dated too, bearing in mind that the story is set in 14th century France, but I soon found that I not only adapted to this old-fashioned narrative but actually rather enjoyed it.

Work through those two things and it leaves an amazingly enthralling story which I enjoyed every bit as much as my first reading. It was an immersion into the grown up world of fairy tales; Beauty and the Beast set in 14th century Paris.

It was also humorous in parts, hauntingly atmospheric, the characters vivid and unforgettable. It also considers themes still relevant today. The book deals with love in its many forms, corruption and inequality. My conclusion is that it is not an easy read but well worth making the effort and persevering with.

Will I ever read it again? Give me another 20 years and I probably will.

ISBN:  978 1853260681

Publisher: Wordsworth Editions

Price: £1.99
Total saving so far: £373.74

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Lincoln Book Festival

I just wanted to update you all on my recent trip to the Lincoln Book Festival.  I attended the final two days of the festival with my husband and we both thoroughly enjoyed our time there.

The Friday evening session kicked off with an interview with Paul ‘Smiler’ Anderson talking about his recently published book Mods: The New Religion. Paul spoke about his personal discovery of the Mod movement during the late 1970’s revival. He also spoke about his many interviews with the Mods of the 1960’s which covered everything from fashion, music and their iconic scooters. I really enjoyed listening to Paul speak and his down to earth portrayal of the movement was fascinating.

The evening then progressed to an interview with Jenny Boyd. Jenny was a model in the 1960’s alongside her sister, Patti Boyd, who married George Harrison, and subsequently, Eric Clapton. Jenny herself was the inspiration for Donovan’s classic song, Jennifer Juniper. She spoke about her fascinating visit to India with the Beatles to visit the Maharishi and gave those of us who didn’t experience the decade at first hand a real insight into the times and attitudes of the young. Jenny has written a book called It’s Not Only Rock ‘n’ Roll in which she records the thoughts on creativity of 75 iconic musicians.

The following evening began with a presentation from Hannah Greig on her book The Beau Monde. Hannah is multi-talented. As well as being an author, she lectures on the 18th century at the University of York and is a historical adviser for film, television and theatre productions. Hannah accompanied her talk with a power point presentation which illustrated her content perfectly and gave us a real insight into what being fashionable in the 18th century really meant.

The festival concluded with Simon Heffer in conversation with Roger Hudson. Simon is the author of several books, his most recent of which is High Minds: The Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain. These two lovely chaps sat and discussed Britain of the 1840’s; a period of vast change socially, religiously and politically. I found this talk particularly interesting as my dissertation during my university days was on this period of history. I was a bit startled to realise how much of my degree I had forgotten but Simon has certainly reinvigorated my own interest in the period and I am sure his book will be in my book collection very soon.

All the books were available to purchase and the authors made themselves available for signing.

My only regret of the festival is that I wasn’t there for the whole thing as my experience was fantastic and I can well imagine that we may go again under our own steam. I would thoroughly recommend to anyone within striking distance of Lincoln to consider going next year.


Thank you to everybody at the Lincoln Book Festival and Omnivore Magazine who made this visit possible.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Disobedience by Naomi Alderman

Ronit left London to carve out a new life for herself. In New York she is a successful career woman, who smokes and drinks and is in a relationship with a married man.

When her father dies she has to return to London and the close-knit community of her childhood. She causes outrage within the Orthodox Jewish community that she left behind but Ronit finds herself questioning her past. When she meets with her childhood friend, Esti, she is forced to confront the issues that she ran away from and also to consider her future. What was intended as a quick visit to sort out her fathers effects has life changing consequences for Ronit.



I enjoyed this book very much. Set within an Orthodox Jewish community this book is in turns very serious and laugh out loud funny. The author clearly has a good understanding of her setting for this novel. She grew up in Hendon where the novel is set and was part of a community such as this. It is her background that has enabled her to describe so clearly this closed community and to do so with both poignancy and tenderness.

Each chapter begins with Jewish teaching and enables the reader to understand the motives and thoughts of the characters involved. Ronit’s behaviour to others is often outrageous and unkind but I found myself really liking her and being drawn to this character; for she is so ordinarily human and faces all the difficulties and self-doubts many people do in one situation or another.

It also deals with some interesting themes. I have seen this book described as being about same sex relationships but I think it is about so much more than that. For me, its main theme was that of self-acceptance within a judgemental environment and places this book in a whole new dimension. Ms. Alderman has written with understanding and sensitivity and has a clear affection for her characters and the dilemmas they individually face.

As added features the books includes an interview with the author and a selection of recipes typical of that which might be eaten in Jewish households during the Sabbath, some of which I have cooked and can recommend.

I loved this book and as a debut novel I think is fantastic. It is no surprise that this novel won the 2006 Orange Award for New Writers. Her style is reminiscent of Zadie Smith and Monica Ali and anyone who has read and enjoyed their work will like this book. Naomi Alderman has published two other novels since this one and I can’t wait to get my hands on them. An excellent novel and one that I highly recommend.

ISBN:  978-0141025957

Publisher: Penguin

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk): £7.19

Total saved so far:  £371.75

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Lincolnshire Sons Who Changed the World

I do not consider myself a naturally lucky person; one of those people for whom everything comes up smelling of roses. Are they naturally blessed I wonder?

I am just not one of those people. If I fall in a pile of manure I get up smelling of.... well, manure and there isn't a whiff of rose fragrance anywhere. However. I still consider myself to be very blessed in life. I am surrounded by family and friends who love me and who know me well enough to always to give me books or knitting yarn as birthday gifts. What more could I ask? 

That said, I am still the kind of person for whom when there are 10 tickets left in the tombola barrel, nine of which are winners, you can guarantee that I will pick out the tenth losing ticket.

So, I recently entered a competition with The Omnivore Magazine which offered a choice of prizes – either a book of short stories by Margaret Atwood or a pair of two day passes to the Lincoln Book Festival including accommodation. Well, no offence intended to the lovely Ms. Atwood but there was no contest. If I were lucky enough to win this completion (yeah right) the opportunity to listen to wonderful writers coupled with the opportunity to stay in beautiful Lincoln….. well, there just was no contest which prize I was going to pick!

I am absolutely thrilled to say that I won. Yes, ME, who never wins anything and I can assure you that my excitement currently knows no bounds.

The Lincoln Book Festival runs from today through to Saturday and we will be attending at the weekend. They have some wonderful speakers attending this event which celebrates history within a literary context. The list of events covers the Lincolnshire lads who changed the world to the flowers that had a similar impact, the men who signed a Royal death warrant and the story of Parliament, the Americans who transformed our great English Houses and the story of the Sixties from a woman at the very heart of the decade’s pop culture.

If you are attending this event do give me a little wave if you see me. You’ll recognize me as I’ll be the woman with the huge happy smile on her face. Then again, if this event is as good as the line up suggests it will be then that will probably be everyone there.

Details of the event can be found at: Lincoln Book Festival 2014

Friday, 26 September 2014

In Pale Battalions by Robert Goddard


Following her husband's recent death, Leonora Galloway, sets out on a trip to the Thiepval Memorial to the dead of the Battle of the Somme with her daughter Penelope. There they find the commemoration to Leonora's fathers death recorded as 30th April 1916. However, Leonara was not born until the 14th March 1917.

Penelope assumes that this is a simple story of a wartime illegitimacy but as Leonora begins to tell her the story of her
birth and her sundered connection to her wealthy and aristocratic family there are huge surprises ahead that Penelope could never have guessed at.


I was gripped from the tantalizing opening line from the prologue of this book:

"This is the day and this the place where a dream turns a corner and a secret is told."

This line sets the tone for the whole book. It is a novel full of intrigue, mystery and tragedy told in gently captivating prose. The book is broken down into three parts with an additional prologue and epilogue. Each part is narrated from a different character perspective and moves seamlessly across time and place.

The prose is simply beautiful and it was a joy to read. Mr. Goddard's style of writing perfectly captures a time almost forgotten and he is able to portray the tragedy of war within a gentle poetic prose. I regard this as hugely skillful and a great achievement on the author's part.

In fact, it is the choice of words which enables the reader to form judgments of each of the characters as they slowly develop and unravel as the book progresses. The characters are multi layered and nobody is quite as they seem and therefore, makes guessing the plot outcome very difficult. Not until the final page does the story wrap up and everything become clear to the reader. Few novels have kept me guessing as effectively as this one.

Mr. Goddard has established himself to me as a very intelligent and skilled writer through this book. It was perfectly paced with enough plot twists and turns throughout and I loved it. I am thrilled that the author has several other titles to his name and I am looking forward to reading these. I highly encourage you to read this book and am very grateful to my friend for recommending and loaning it to me.

ISBN:   978 0552162968

Publisher: Corgi

Price (based on today's price at Amazon.co.uk): £5.59

Total saving so far: £364.56

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Then and Always by Dani Atkins

Rachel Wiltshire has a glittering future ahead of her. She has a loyal group of friends, a gorgeous boyfriend
and is just about to start university. However, as she and her friends meet up for a farewell dinner, tragedy strikes and Rachel's life changes forever.

Five years later Rachel is still struggling to come to terms with her past. Now, she has to return home for her best friends wedding and confront those issues that she has tried so hard to leave behind. Whilst there, Rachel has a fall and wakes in hospital to find that nothing about her life is as it should be. In fact, everything seems better in this new life that she has awoken to; but can she trust any of her memories?

Having slogged through my last read, Cross Stitch/Outlander, what I really needed was something light and entertaining which I was going be able to whip through and this book proved to be the perfect thing.

It would be true to say, that I found this book to be a little predictable and sugar sweet at times. However, in this case, predictability proved to be a good thing and I found myself itching to get back to this book at every available opportunity. I am not going to give anything away by saying that I ended my reading of this novel with a very satisfied sigh!

The characters were portrayed in such a way that it was clear from the outset who we were meant to like and who we should distrust. The latter characters were rather superficial but the authors portrayal of Rachel was excellent. She is an adorable character and her sense of confusion concerning her own memories made her into a thoroughly endearing person.

I could imagine this book transferring very well to the screen and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the film rights to this are rapidly acquired. It is a lovely gentle romance with an absorbing alternate reality theme and makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read. I am not going to pretend that this is a great work of literature but it is well worth a read if you want a book that will not be too taxing but will keep you absorbed right through to the end. I will certainly be looking out for other novels by this author.

ISBN:  978 0804178525

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Price (based on today's price at Amazon.co.uk): £9.00

Total saving to date: £358.97

Monday, 15 September 2014

Cross Stitch (UK) - Outlander (US) by Diana Gabaldon

1945 and Claire Randall is reunited with her husband, Frank, following the war. She served as a military nurse during the war years and now she and Frank are spending some time together in the Highlands of Scotland while he researches his genealogy.

Whilst out on her own one night Claire somehow steps through some standing stones and finds herself transported to 1743 and where the Scottish Highlands are a dangerous place to be. Not only is this a time of war but Claire is an outlander and somehow she has to convince these people that she is not an English spy.

Claire soon finds herself torn between two time zones because as much as she loves Frank she soon realises that she has feelings for a young Scottish clansman. How can she begin to reconcile her feelings for these two men separated by time?

This book has many of the attributes that I like in a book; an exciting plot, time travel, romance, is well written, seems well researched and is historical fiction. I have also wanted to read this book for years and bought a copy when I first got my kindle a couple of years ago.

There has been a recent increase in the popularity of this book and I decided to jump right on that band wagon with the prospect of eight books in the series. It has also been turned into a television series in America which may well make it over here at some point.

Why then, has this book been a real slog for me? It has taken me a ridiculous amount of time to read as I was feeling so disinclined to read it. Now, usually when I am not enjoying a book I grudgingly give up but because of all the hype surrounding this book I decided to keep going.

On the positive side this book really does have an exciting plot accompanied by a time travel element. It works well and the transition from 1945 to 1743 is completely believable. Ms Gabaldon has done her research well which contributes to a believably atmospheric shift in time.

However, I personally found this novel too heavy handed with the sex and violence that it completely detracted from the things I actually liked about the story. This is not a book for the faint hearted or the young as there are repeated scenes with explicit descriptions of rape, domestic violence and sodomy.

I understand that this is a very popular book and that I am in something of a minority in my opinion about it but it just wasn’t my cup of tea and I shall not be continuing with the rest of the series.

ISBN:  978 0099911708

Publisher:: Arrow

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk for the kindle version) £3.95

Total saving so far: £349.97

Monday, 25 August 2014

Blessings by Anna Quindlen

When a young couple abandon their newborn child and leave her by the garage of the Blessings Estate they have no way of foreseeing the profound impact this will have on the lives of those who live there. The baby is discovered by Skip, the caretaker, who secretes the infant away and cares for her. However, when the estate matriarch, Lydia Blessings, discovers that Skip is caring for the newborn infant her reaction is surprising - most of all to herself.

This is another of those books that has been gathering dust on my shelves for years waiting to be read. Now that I have read it I have put it straight back on my shelf as there is no way I want to part with it and am certain I shall be re-reading it.

This is one of the most exquisitely touching novels I have ever read and by that I do not mean it is sentimental. What I do mean is that the prose is so beautifully and sensitively written that it was impossible to read this and not be stirred emotionally. It maintains a lovely tenderness throughout that meant I meandered through the beautiful prose. This is not a fast paced novel but a gentle stroll along the narrative and which made this a joy to read.

The book's main theme is love; not of the romantic variety but of the platonic love that grows between individuals or the love between parents and children. It also looks at how love has the ability to change a person and can be ultimately redemptive.

This is one of those few books which moved me to the point that I was afraid to read on because, as a reader, I firmly suspected that this situation was not going to end well. I was so engaged by the two main characters and the complicity that develops between them, along with the intelligent way in which the author bridges the social divide between them.  She has an exceptional ability to take an unlikely situation and make it completely convincing through such believable characterization.

This is an utterly compelling novel and if you haven’t already read this then I highly recommend that you do. For me, this book is a real treasure that I shall be keeping safe for the next time I want to read it.

ISBN:  978 0099558354

Publisher: Windmill Books

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk):  £6.39

Total saving so far:  £346.02

Monday, 11 August 2014

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

This is the second book in the All Soul’s trilogy. There are no spoilers for this book in my review but if you have not yet read the first book A Discovery of Witches I highly recommend that you do and you can find my review for it here. Also, you may wish to not read this review any further as, by necessity, there are spoilers for the first book in this review.

At the end of the first book we left Diana, who is an historian and descended from a long line of witches, and Matthew, a long lived vampire time travelling to Elizabethan England. They have broken the laws which divides their two species and Diana has discovered a lost alchemical manuscript which has provoked an uprising between witches, vampires and daemons.

This book picks up at the point where the previous one leaves off and continues the story of their foray into the past to seek refuge from those who mean them harm, to search for the elusive Elizabethan manuscript that Diana has uncovered in the present day library at Oxford University and to seek out a witch who can help her to control her powers.

I liked the way the book picks up exactly where the previous one ended as it provided an instant transition into the next part of the story.

However, I did find the plot a little repetitive and felt that the book would have been improved had it been tighter and a little less waffly. There were times I felt it meandered about rather than getting on with the story and would have benefited from being less lengthy. The narrative moves from place the place but the plot didn’t seem to progress along with the book. I did not find myself wanting to rush back to read more.

Whereas, I had really liked the characters in the first book and found them fully formed, they became a bit two dimensional in this book and I was disappointed with that.

That said, I did read right through to the end and I still intend to read the final book in the trilogy and I hope I will find the conclusion a tad more satisfactory than I found this one. However, the middle book in a trilogy often stagnates a little and just seems to provide the launching pad for the finale. So, I do not want to be too hard on the author for this book but look forward to being able to assess the story as a whole when I have read the final one.

All that said, my husband read this book straight after the first and virtually gobbled it down in one as he found it completely gripping. He then rushed on to read the final book and thought the entire work was excellent. So, I am glad to say that we find our old friend subjectivity rearing his head again and telling us that what appeals to one does not necessarily appeal to another. I would love to hear your thoughts if you have read any of this trilogy.

ISBN:  978 0755384754

Publisher: Headline

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk): £8.27

Total saving so far:  £339.63

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland

King Richard II’s reign was troubled. It was a time when the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

Respected cloth merchant Robert of Bassingham has acquired his wealth over many years through much hard work. Married to Edith and with two sons to whom he can teach and hand over his business to in the course of time he has little to worry about.

When wealthy widow, Caitlin, seeks him out to ask business advice Robert is only too happy to help. However, others can see that Caitlin is slowly worming her way into his affections but Robert refuses to see this. Will Robert’s good sense prevail before it is too late or can the mysterious Caitlin weave some kind of spell over him that he will not be able to extricate himself from?

Set during the Peasants Revolt in 1381 the narrative of this medieval thriller concentrates on the lives of Robert and his family. Although most of the characters were extremely well portrayed in this book I found Robert himself to be a little naïve considering the position he holds in society and which made his character a little unrealistic for me. However, throughout the book the author is suggesting that he is being induced by witchcraft into this gullible state and the plot proceeds along these lines throughout.

A time of myth and superstition, the plot is dark and rich in atmosphere and the breakdown of this one family is clearly designed to reflect the similarity of the destruction occurring within the wider society of the time.

What I really liked about this book is the way the author took a well known period of history and concentrated on the ordinary day to day lives of both the poor along with insight into the response of the merchant class. There is much written in history which focuses on the effect that history has on society with a concentration on nobility but here, the focus is on those trying to live through outrageous circumstances whilst being part of the lower echelons of society. It is this concentration that made this an engaging read and encouraged an empathy with the characters.

The author has clearly researched her topic with thoroughness and has thus made this period of history accessible to a modern audience. She is an intelligent writer and it was a pleasure to read this book.

I also loved the way each chapter opens with a superstition and introduces the idea of the significance that these beliefs had upon the actions of the characters.

Anyone, who enjoys historical novels with a mystery running through it and a hint of the supernatural will enjoy this book very much. This is the first novel I have read by Karen Maitland and I will be reading more by this author in the future.

ISBN:  9781472215017

Publisher:  Headline Review

Price:  £9.09

Total saving so far:  £331.36

Friday, 1 August 2014

**GIVEAWAY** of The Undesirables by Dave Boling


While the vastly outnumbered Boer commandos fight in the field, half a million British soldiers torch a flaming path across the South African veld. As they go, the British imprison thousands of displaced Boer families, including Aletta Venter's, and cast them into newly devised 'concentration camps'.

In a crowded tent with her mother and sibling, Aletta finds ways to cope with the confinement, privation and loss, but searches for the rarest of comforts - a bit of adolescent normalcy, perhaps even the spark of forbidden romance. Her weapon of choice in this personal battle; a young girl's powerful sense of hope

I have been wanting to host a giveaway for a while but have been waiting for the right book to come along and this looks like just the book.

If you want to be in with a chance of winning this book then there are a few ways in which you can enter:

1) Leave a comment on this blog telling me what your favourite book is.
2) Follow me on Twitter using the button on this page and RT the tweet about this giveaway.
3) Give me a like on facebook and share the giveaway posting  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Left-on-the-Shelf-Book-Blog/703940969641318?ref=hl

You will get extra entries for each one of those that you do e.g. if you leave a comment here and then follow on Twitter and RT or 'like' me on Facebook and share then you will get 3 entries.

I will run the giveaway for two weeks and I will use a random number generator at midday (BST) on 14th August 2014 to decide on a winner.

The giveaway is open worldwide.

GOOD LUCK!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Stoner by John Williams

John Stoner is born into a poor farming family in Missouri at the end of the 19th century. John’s father recognises that farming changes with time and he sends his son to university to study agriculture before coming home to work on the family farm.

However, at university John falls in love with English Literature and his life changes course completely as a result. He begins a lifelong career as a scholar and academic and marries into a ‘proper’ family, far removed from the world he left behind in Missouri.

For John, life never really lives up to his expectations and he finds his life full of disappointments. Circumstances drive him deeper into himself where he hopes to find some peace; but can solitude really bring John the serenity he desires for himself?

This is one of the best books I have read in a long time and I think that is because it is one of the most skilfully written books I have ever encountered.

The character of John Stoner is one of the most ordinary characters I have encountered in my reading. There is nothing exciting that happens to him and he certainly does not live up to his early promise. However, it is this sense of the ordinary that catapults this book into the extraordinary.

Other than his early love for literature nothing terribly interesting or eventful happens to John throughout the entire novel. As a reader, I like my reading material to move along at an appropriate pace and to contain enough events to keep me engaged. So, in theory, I should not have liked this book.

However, I was completely hooked from the first page right through to the last because the skilful execution of the writing held me completely captivated. For an author to be able to take such an ordinary character surrounded by the mundane and elevate him to being a character that I not only wanted to read about but who I genuinely cared about and who has remained with me after the conclusion of the book takes an intelligence and skill not often seen in an author.

This book has had a lot of hype recently and I am always wary of books that have as I am so often disappointed. However, this book is an exception and I have no criticism to make of it. It was top rate writing and I would recommend it to everyone.

I borrowed this book from the library and it has reminded me of what a valuable resource our libraries are. To be able to read a gem like this at no cost to the reader is something that deserves celebrating. My local library in Uckfield is not massive but it is jammed packed full of carefully chosen books that will appeal to everyone. The staff are both cheerful and helpful and a visit there always reminds me how fortunate we are to have such a good resource in our town.

ISBN:  9780099561545

Publisher:  Vintage Classics

Price (based on today‘s price on Amazon.co.uk):  £6.29

Total saving so far:  £322.27