Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Trader of Saigon by Lucy Cruikshanks

Set in Vietnam in the 1980’s the country is propelled by greed, poverty and fear. This is the story of three people whose lives are set to collide.

Alexander is a deserter from the US army and is now engaged in the dark and sordid business of trading women.

Hanh is the girl who thinks Alexander is the answer to her prayers and will help her out of poverty.

Phuc has gambled away all his money and now has to pay his debts which will have a significant impact on both him and his family.

This is a society torn apart by the ravages of war and the fates of these three people are destined to become intertwined in a ruthless manner.

I enjoyed this book enormously and by the time I was about three quarters of the way through I just had to sit and read the rest of it in one sitting. The author tells the story of each of the characters separately but as the book progresses the three come together to make this compelling reading.

However, it does not always make comfortable reading as the subject matter is dark and centres around the trading of women but the character of Hanh is full of hope and, as a reader, I found myself both fearful for her whilst sharing her hope in a better future. She is a heart rending character whose plight will move any reader and her story certainly had me hooked from the start.

The writing is very atmospheric and the sense of place is acute. The author skilfully transports her reader to the heat and oppression of this city and I had a good sense of the consequences of chaos and corruption facing these characters in this post war setting. The author enables her reader to visualise the city through evocative writing and excellent story telling skills.

I highly recommend this book. The subject matter is dark and deals with some uncomfortable issues but ultimately it is a novel of hope and redemption and is a fascinating story of three people striving to improve their lives. Lucy Cruickshank is a debut author whose writing is both powerful and succinct and I look forward to seeing more of her work.

I read this as a kindle version which costs just 98p on Amazon today. This is incredibly good value for such a good book and I recommend buying this today.

ISBN:  978 1782063445

Publisher: Heron Books

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk):  98p

Total saving so far:  £254.73

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Running Girl by Simon Mason

Garvie Smith has the highest IQ in his school but has the lowest grades. His mum wants to know why. His teachers say it is because he doesn’t put in any effort. In fact, he finds getting out of bed in the mornings an effort and frequently does not even turn up for school. His mum wants him to do well in school. His GCSE’s are looming so she resorts to threats concerning what will happen if he does not get himself to school and actually pass his exams.

However, Garvie needs something to motivate him and school just does not do that for him. But when Chloe Dow’s body is pulled out of Pike Pond and the police start investigating, Garvie is sufficiently motivated to start asking questions himself to find out what happened to her.

This book has a lot to recommend it to young adults. It has a good story and is fast paced enough to keep readers riveted. Having said that, I am a little past the teenage years (a-hem) but I was pretty much hooked by this book myself.

Garvie is a really interesting character. I dislike stereotypes and whilst he was depicted very stereotypically as a disaffected teenager with an arrogant attitude, we also see a wonderfully clever minded young man who is able to look at situations from outside the box. His cockiness is slightly irritating but it is worth sticking with it to see a more rounded character emerge.

I also liked the character of DI Singh but I would have liked to see his character fleshed out a little more. However, the relationship between Garvie and DI Singh is very interesting and they form a curious, although somewhat implausible, pairing.

As a crime novel it has a very good story with enough sub-plots to keep a reader interested. It takes sufficient twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and I did not find the solution obvious. I like crime fiction as a genre and this had a gripping plot to equal many I have previously read.

I think this book would have wide appeal and would appeal to both boys and girls. It is an action packed page turner and I think both young people and adults alike will enjoy the story. This would be a great book to gift to a teenager who has become a little reluctant to read as there is much to keep them hooked.

ISBN: 978 0857560582

Publisher:  David Fickling Books

Price (based on today’s price at Amazon.co.uk): £9.09

Total saving so far: £254.65

Want to buy a copy of Running Girl? Click here to buy your copy.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist by Ruchama King Feuerman

Isaac Markowitz, a haberdasher from New York, has moved to Jerusalem to leave behind his past. He becomes assistant to a wise rabbi, a Kabbalist, who daily dispenses wisdom to those troubled souls who collect in the courtyard outside his home.

Here, Isaac encounters an array of characters including the red headed American, Tamar, who is in Israel to find a spiritual husband and Mustafa, a devout Muslim who was deformed at birth. The lives of this unlikely trio are destined to touch one another in ways that none of them could have imagined.

I liked this novel for it’s simplicity. There are no complicated plots to keep up with although has a story that is interesting enough to be worth telling. It flows along at a gentle pace and has a very likeable innocence to it.

I particularly liked the characters in this book and Isaac is quite adorable in a blundering and naïve kind of way. My heart broke for Mustafa who has tried so hard to please people all his life and yet finds himself so unacceptable to everyone due to a deformity.

This novel is very atmospheric and I enjoyed reading about the sights and sounds of Jerusalem and the way the Israeli/Arab worlds collide in this city. It really did make me want to jump on the first flight to Jerusalem I could find so that I could drink it all in for myself. Maybe one day. In the meantime reading books like this that are saturated in the atmosphere of the place are a good substitution.

The author very cleverly presented a city in conflict but gave it humanity through her characters. This is not the side of Israel that we see in the news but a story of the people who live amidst the conflict and how love can cross the division. Superbly done by an author who clearly knows the city well.

I won’t pretend that this is a work of literature but is a lovely story with adorable characters. It has an innocence about it that few novels have and I thought this was all the better for it. I have read that the author has been dubbed the “Jewish Jane Austen” and I can see why that has been applied to her as the novel has a similar gentleness.

This is the authors second novel and I would very much like to read her debut novel, Seven Blessings.

I was fortunate enough to have a pre-release e-copy of this book from the publisher.  However, I have just learned that this book will not be available here in the UK until August although can be pre-ordered from Amazon.co.uk for £9.44. It is available from Amazon.com though so for readers in the UK who can’t wait until it’s release date here you can still get hold of a copy.

ISBN:  978 1590178140

Publisher: New York Review of Books

Price: £9.44

Total saving so far:  £245.56

Monday, 7 April 2014

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Ninny Threadgoode is a resident at the Rose Terrace Nursing Home. She is befriended by Evelyn Crouch, who talks with her every week while her husband is visiting his mother there. Ninny is in her eighties now and recalls her past with a clarity that the present does not have.

Through her stories Ninny transports Evelyn to Whistle Stop in Alabama, the place where Ninny grew up, married and raised her family. The Whistle Stop café was the hub of the community, for both black and white people, when segregation was still the norm. Their’s was a close knit community which had it’s secrets and little by little these are revealed to Evelyn.

I know I am probably the last person in the world to read this book and there are already hundreds of reviews out there for it.  It really doesn’t need any further reviewing but I just could not resist telling you all how much I enjoyed this book.

It was loaned to me by my best friend some time ago and I have finally got around to reading it.  It is one of her favourite books and I can absolutely see why. It has a marvellous range of characters and an array of subplots which kept me completely engaged without leaving me behind.

The chapters move around in time and place and Fannie Flagg achieves this seamlessly and at no point did I feel confused about where we were in the story. It is told from various points of view and I just loved reading The Weems Weekly. This is the local weekly news bulletin written by the postmistress Dot Weems and in which much of the activities of the small town are portrayed. Wonderfully done these newsletters were amusing and succinct.

Each character is unique and utterly believable and I found myself empathising with most of them at one point or another through the book.  This is a multi layered novel and contains everything that a good novel should; good characters, atmosphere and wonderful storytelling.

I know a lot of people have already read this book but if you haven’t then I highly recommend it. It is full of human interest that will appeal to many readers.

The book cover that I have above is from the copy I actually read. There is a more up to date cover but I really like this one as it portrays the atmosphere of the book so well.

ISBN:  978 0099143710

Publisher:  Vintage

Price (based on today’s paperback price on Amazon.co.uk):  £5.59

Total saving:  £236.12

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

City of the Sun by Juliana Maio

As the Second World War rages across Europe, journalist, Mickey Connolly, is in Cairo in search of a story. Whilst there, Mickey is recruited by the American Embassy and so begins his adventure as an undercover agent, tasked with infiltrating Cairo’s Jewish community in order to find a refugee scientist who may have discovered a way to increase America’s weapons power. However, unknown to the Americans, the Nazi’s are also seeking this same scientist.

Then amidst this tale of espionage there is Maya, a young and beautiful refugee who has secrets of her own. Mickey has no way of knowing how closely their stories will become entwined or whether he will ever really get to know this mysterious woman.

The scene of Cairo in 1941 was atmospheric and well presented in this book and it’s exoticism was well portrayed. It was obvious that the author has spent time there as her descriptions appeared accurate. I do not know a lot about the situation in Egypt during the war and I enjoyed learning more about this in this easy to read novel.

The main characters developed nicely and were both likeable and believable. The author cleverly directed our sympathies to the correct characteristics of the main players and she did it well.

The plot is well paced and contains all the exciting elements that I would have expected in a novel of murder, spying and espionage. Each chapter left me wanting to know more and keen to move on to the next chapter.

Overall, I enjoyed this book but it was spoilt for me by an unnecessary sex scene which really did not need to be there and was completely surplus to the plot. Having got to know the characters fairly well by this point it seemed very out of character for one of them and I think this did nothing to add credence to what was otherwise an entertaining spy thriller with a bit of romance thrown in.  It is worth a read but certainly is not going to make it onto my best books list.

ISBN:  978 1626340510

Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group

Price (based on today’s Kindle price on Amazon.co.uk):  £4.92

Total saving so far:  £229.53