Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Last King of the Jews by Jean-Claude Lattes. Translated by William Rodarmor

This is the first ever biography of Marcus Agrippa, also known as The Last King of the Jews.

Agrippa was the grandson of the infamous Herod, lifelong friend of Claudius and was the last king to reign over Palestine and unite the Jewish people prior to the destruction of their society.  Reigning for only six years, Agrippa was both lauded and applauded, hated and reviled, his reign was highly significant for the Jewish people. Following his death Jewish Palestine was completely eradicated and a million Jews were killed.

His life story reads like a Shakespearian tragi-comedy.  Full of drama and intrigue this book made for an interesting read.  Although I already knew something of the Roman period and the history of the Jews, I knew very little about Agrippa prior to reading this book.  However, a prior understanding of the period is not necessary as the author has thoughtfully included an appendix explaining the history of the Jews up to that period and which he suggests in the introduction that a reader may like to read first.

I must confess that I felt slightly overwhelmed in the first couple of chapters by the sheer volume of unfamiliar names as well as those same names being reused for offspring.  However, it did all fall into place and make sense as my reading continued.

The author also included notes at the end of each chapter which were extremely informative and threw up some interesting asides to the main text.

This book has obviously been very well researched and the author clearly has a great interest in the history of the Middle East.  He has brought together various sources to build a picture of Agrippa.  Quotes from Tacitus, Philo Judaeus and Josephus amongst others are liberally sprinkled throughout the book and serve to portray a well rounded portrayal of both Agrippa and his time.

What I liked about this book is that it reads like a novel.  It has not been fictionalised although the author claims to have staged much of the dialogue as it was not recorded but overall he has done a good job of portraying a little known historical figure in a readable way.  Anyone interested in the Roman period or the history of the Jews will get much from reading this book.

ISBN:  Available in Kindle format

Publisher:  Open Road Integrated Media

Price: (Today at  £6.17

Total saving so far:  £155.24

Monday, 27 January 2014

Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert

Gabriel Blackstone lives in London and works as a professional computer hacker stealing information from big companies and selling on.  He also has a rare talent; Gabriel is a remote viewer which means he can hijack a persons mind in order to extract information.

However, he rarely uses this ability but when his ex-lover, Frankie, asks for his help to find her missing stepson, Gabriel is called upon to use his remote viewing skills to help her.  His search leads him to Monk House, the home of the beautiful and seductive sisters, Minnalouche and Morrighan Monk, whom the missing young man had recently spent a lot of time with and who Frankie suspects are involved in his disappearance.

Gabriel becomes increasingly attracted to the sisters and their home but as he grows closer to them he begins to suspect one of them is a murderer.

This is a very exciting read and kept me turning the pages.  It is full of the twists and turns of a psychological thriller whilst also being a paranormal story of magic and the occult.  I loved the way science meets mysticism in this book.  The author presents us with the associated technological information concerning Gabriel’s job whilst at the same time weaving a story of magic and sensuality which I felt was a very clever writing combination and no easy task as a writer.  A novel based around computer technology alone would probably has lost me a couple of pages in but the way Ms. Mostert weaves her own brand of magic into this book demonstrates her skill as a story teller.

The characters were very interesting.  Minnalouche and Morrighan are as bewitching to the reader as they are to the other characters in the book.  However, what I particularly enjoyed was the way the author portrays the sense of character about Monk House.  I was as interested in aspects of the house as I was in the development of the characters and which affords the book shades of the gothic.

This book will appeal to a wide audience as it refuses to be confined by any particular genre.  Part psychological thriller, part romance, part paranormal, part technological, I really could not say to which genre this book belongs.

What I can say is that it is an exciting, well paced read and is unlike anything I have read before.  This would be a great read for anyone who enjoys any of the above genres but if you fancy something that might take you out of your reading comfort zone then I would recommend this.  It is a multi faceted story and is that little bit different from the run of the mill novel.  I enjoyed it very much and I hope that you will too.

ISBN:  978 1909965096

Publisher:  Portable Magic Ltd.

Price: (Today at Amazon for Kindle version):  1.26
I was given a kindle version by the publisher

Total saving so far:  £146.07

Monday, 20 January 2014

Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson

The women who work at the Pearce Duff factory in Bermondsey are known locally as The Custard Tarts.  They work incredibly long hours for a pittance in poor conditions but it is the spirit and the friendships of these women that keep them going.  That is until they cannot take the appalling work conditions any longer and go on strike which causes even further hardships.

Nellie Clark’s mother died when she was young and it has been her role to care for and support her younger brothers and sister.  Her father is an angry, bitter man who drinks his wages away so the strike plunges Nellie’s family into extreme poverty.

However, Nellie is made of strong stuff and finds a way to ensure her family do not face starvation.  Whilst, striving for the good of her family Nellie is romantically pursued by two men who are competing for her attentions.  But with the shadow of war looming amidst the ongoing hardships it is unlikely that Nellie will find time for love.

I was attracted to this book because it is set in Bermondsey.  My father was born and grew up in the area as did my grandfather and great-grandfather before him. So, when I saw that this was set in the area in the years leading up to World War One I was very keen to read it. Although a work of fiction, the author based this book on her own ancestry in Bermondsey and I was delighted to learn that we share a common geographical ancestry.

Mary Gibson’s debut novel makes for a lovely read.  Her characters are superb and very well developed and it was so easy to get emotionally involved with these characters who’s hardships are heartbreaking but who’s strength of spirit is utterly admirable.

The author clearly has a good understanding of both the setting and time of this novel and it has been well researched.  Themes of struggle, love and war are all present and come together in this easy to read novel.

Any one who enjoys historical fiction, family saga or romance will enjoy this book. It has a wonderful feel good factor and if Ms. Gibson writes a second novel I would very much want to read it.  She is clearly an author to watch and if she continues to write to this standard could well become a household name.

ISBN:  978 1781855775

Publisher:  Head of Zeus

Price:  (Today at Amazon):  £15.29

Total saving so far:  £144.81

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Beautiful Salisbury Cathedral

Tomorrow we are going to spend a week with my son in Wiltshire and are hoping to visit the beautiful Salisbury Cathedral while we are there. However, judging by how much rain they have had recently in the area I very much doubt it will be as sunny as it is in the picture.

We are planning a lovely week just sitting by the fire and generally relaxing. We do have a first birthday party to go to while we are there which should be fun but other than that the week is all our own to do with as we please.

Rest assured I shall be taking plenty of reading material with me and of course, some knitting.  As if I could go anywhere without a book and some knitting!  The very thought is simply outrageous darlings!

I shall be back in a week with some new book reviews.  Until then, I hope you all have a wonderful week.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain

When Noelle commits suicide her best friends, Tara and Emerson, are stunned.  Noelle, was a happy woman who led a fulfilling life as a midwife, was involved in charity work and was loved by everyone - or so they thought.

When they set about the unenviable task of dealing with Noelle’s effects they come across an unfinished letter that she had written and clearly never intended  anyone to see.   This is the only clue that Tara and Emerson have as to why their friend, who they thought they knew so well, may have committed suicide.  As they delve deeper into the mystery of Noelle’s life they discover secrets that will have enormous consequences for their own lives.

Written with emotion and with a cast of likeable characters Diane Chamberlain demonstrates her great story telling skills.  I liked the way that the narration is divided between the main characters including the retrospective narration of Noelle. I enjoyed being able to see first hand through Noelle how past events actually came into being whilst simultaneously discovering those events through the perspective of the other characters.

My only criticism of this book is that the plot was a little predictable at times.  With each new revelation the next one became obvious to me so there were few surprises along the way.  I also felt the final chapter seemed a little rushed  and could have been developed further.

However, I did find the themes extremely thought provoking.  The book explores the nature of friendship, the bonds between mothers and daughters, the need to belong and the destructive power of secrets.

This is my first read by Diane Chamberlain and I liked her easy to read, well paced style.  Fans of Jodi Picoult will really like this book.

ISBN:  978 0778304661

Publisher:  MIRA

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon):  £5.59
This is a book from my own shelves.

Total saved so far:  £129.52

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Goodness, Grace and Me by Julie Houston

When best friends, Harriet and Grace, were at school together their lives were made a misery by Head Girl, Amanda Goodners, also known as Miss Goodness.  However, school days are long past and both women are now teachers themselves and have virtually forgotten all about school.

That is until Harriet’s devoted husband, Nick, wants to leave his secure job and invest money (that they don’t have) in a new business venture with the entrepreneurial, David Henderson.  Not only is this extremely risky during a recession but it will also mean that Nick will need to work closely with David’s wife, Mandy.  As well as being stunningly attractive and outrageously
flirtatious with Nick, Mandy turns out to be the former Miss Amanda Goodners.

Now that she is back in their lives does she really still have the power to cause havoc for Harriet?  Also, can Harriet carry all their financial burdens during Nick’s ill-timed risky business venture?

I am always a little put off when a book is described as “an hilarious, laugh out loud romantic comedy” as this one was.  I have read several books with that type of description that have barely been able to raise a titter from me.  So, I was very pleasantly surprised that this book genuinely was funny and I did indeed laugh at loud on several occasions.

Harriet is an hilarious character who I could so easily identify with.  She was easy to engage with and I expect anyone who reads this book will see a little of themselves, or at least someone they know, in her. Thus it was very easy to empathise with Harriet and the ensuring chaos around her.

What I admired most about this book was it’s unpretentious quality.  By that, I mean Ms. Houston was able to establish such a connection with me as a reader that I felt more like she was telling me this story over a cup of coffee than that I was reading a novel.  The author’s skill lies in the way that she can portray everyday happenings in such a natural , easy writing style.

The plot was both believable and entertaining, the characters well developed and the twists and turns along the way made for a captivating read.  I am really hoping that Ms. Houston has more novels planned as she is an author that I would read again.

This book is available as a paperback or in Kindle format and it costs only 99p at today’s prices for the Kindle version.  I don’t think anyone would feel they had wasted their money and I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.

ISBN:  978 1492143956

Publisher:  Create Space Independent Publishing Platform

Price:  99p (Kindle) - I was given a copy by the author.

Savings so far:  £123.93

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Sarah Grimke, the daughter of an aristocratic family in Charleston, is given a slave for her 11th birthday.  Hetty, also known as Handful, is presented to her with lavender ribbons tied around her neck and waist.  Even at such a young age Sarah is appalled by the inhumanity of such a gift and attempts to give Handful her freedom.  However, this is the Deep South of America in 1803, where slavery is the norm and Sarah is forced to keep her.  Consequently, the two girls grow up together and a bond forms which will stay with them forever.

I could not have kicked off my reading in 2014 with a better book than this as it has everything that appeals to me as a reader.  I was engrossed in the plot from the very first page and involved with the characters to the extent that I could not wait to get back to reading this book and was thinking about it during my non-reading time (you know, that thing called life that tends to get in the way of reading sometimes.)

The dialogue and atmosphere transported me to the time and place of this novel. However, what I appreciated about the prose most of all was the alternating narration between Sarah and Handful.  This gave the novel such balance as it enabled me to observe the events unfolding through both pairs of eyes.  The theme of freedom and the different forms it’s loss can take was well portrayed through this dual narration.

There are times when this book is shocking in it’s brutality but is contrasted with the kindness, love and friendship that blossoms between the main characters.  It’s themes are powerful and told with an intensity that not many authors could achieve but Sue Monk Kidd tells the story with a beauty that will stir the heart of any reader. In another writers hands this story could have been depressing but my feeling was that it portrayed a message of understanding, compassion, freedom and, above all, hope.

I was amazed when I read the author’s note at the conclusion of the book to find that this had been based on real events.  I could not believe that I had never heard of the Grimke sisters before who did so much, not only for the cause of slavery, but also for the emancipation of women.  I am grateful to the author for bringing the achievements of these two great women to my attention.

This book will stay with me long after the final page and I cannot recommend it highly enough.  I have been a fan of Sue Monk Kidd since I read The Secret Life of Bees, which I also highly recommend if you haven’t read it.  I already thought that she was a writer of great significance but this book proves her to also be a writer of outstanding quality.   Every now and again a book comes along that makes me feel privileged to have been able to read it and this is just such a book.

ISBN:  978 1472212757

Publisher:  Tinder Press

Price:  £11.99

Total saved so far:  £122.94