Saturday, 3 January 2015

My 2014 book reviews

Firstly, sorry about the strange text background colour - I can't seem to get rid of it!

Before 2014 I wasn't really one for many reviews, but I tried to up my game a bit last year and found I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing the excellent reads I discovered. Below I cover books by the fantastic Terry Tyler, Georgia Rose, Susan Buchanan, Vic Neal, Jenny Twist and Jane Thynne.

Wow! I was settling into this story on the train into work, really loving June and wanting it to work out for her, then got the shock of my life! Ms Twist certainly knows how to deliver the unexpected! So pleased I downloaded the sequel last week. I've started it, but now I know I won't want to finish it because the writing is so readable and the characterisation is fantastic. Yes, it's short, and I would certainly have kept on reading, but as there's a book 2 and a book 3 I can't complain too much!

If you want a short story with a twist (no pun intended, Jenny!) and an intriguing dose of Spanish folklore then read it - I guarantee you'll want to read all three!

When Natalie comes to temporarily run the Sugar and Spice bakery, things begin to change for everyone. Susan Buchanan has written a delightfully Christmassy story which revolves around the lives of various characters including Meredith the workaholic, Jacob who longs for a loving family, Rebecca who is going through a bad break-up and my favourite, Stanley, who is recently widowed and can't face life on his own. Natalie's arrival triggers good fortune for those around her, and I love how Susan has written her characters with such affection and care. The Christmas Spirit is an uplifting tale about the goodness of human nature, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves to curl up with a good festive read during the dark winter nights. Just don't forget a good slice of cake, as you WILL be hungry! I adore Susan's descriptions of food! I could vividly see Sugar and Spice in my mind, with its Christmas tree, gluhwein and every cake you can think of, and I would eat there every week if it was round the corner from me!

The Christmas Spirit is a festive treat, and I would love to read a sequel to see what had happened to all the characters by Christmas 2014.

Set in the fictional Oxford University college of Goodfitz, The Corridor is a wry look at university life by someone who's been there and obviously seen it all! It reads more like a script than a novel, but that's what makes it so readable and doesn't detract from the narrative in any way.

The main characters include, predictably, a posh 'Beastings' (Bullington) Club member with delusions of grandeur (Ben), a 'socialist' who is at Oxford in order to bring it down from the inside (Rupert), a girl who lives for rowing (Lexi) and the 'ordinary' voice of sanity, a scholarship fresher who begins an online diary (Poppy). Oh, and we mustn't forget the eccentric life-long student, Albert, who has been writing his 'fascinating' thesis for years, and the Master, who constantly battles the students.

We never deviate from the setting, the same student hall corridor (hence the title), so the gaps in between the students going about their day are brought to life through Poppy's online diary and the emails from Ben and Rupert. Student politics is portrayed as petty and insular (a bit like Westminster!), and there are many laugh-out-loud moments, as well as more cringey moments, such as Rupert being duped by Ben (one of many times!) into emailing the college about the perils of a certain sexual practice, and when we learn exactly what a 'milk race' is...

The Corridor reminds me of the Channel 4 programme 'Fresh Meat': it is funny, touching and contains much about human nature at its worst (and, towards the end, its best). I would have given it four and a half stars if I could as there are some spelling errors later on, but that is a minor point, as it doesn't ruin what is an excellently written, wonderfully observed gem of a book which I am glad to have come across. I am looking forward to the sequel!

I am so glad I picked up this book. It's a slow-burner but it's worth it! It follows Emma Grayson from the tentative beginning of her new life after suffering personal trauma through to a budding romance filled with mystery. I truly love how Georgia Rose develops her character-driven story and although I know nothing about horses she writes about them in a very accessible way. I particularly like the images Ms Rose evokes about the estate and I SO want to live in Emma's cottage! I did like Emma very much and the first-person story although I must admit finding it hard to warm to Trent (although I suspect that was the idea!) and think he should have told Emma his big secret in the first place. I do hope he's not as 'controlling' in the sequel, which I have downloaded and am very much looking forward to reading.

Ms Rose does a great job with the supporting characters and I especially like Carlton, so hope he pops up in book 2. A great first novel - well done!

Wow! What a read! The exhilarating sequel to A Single Step, Before the Dawn is fast-paced from the start as Emma Grayson turns from loner to heroine. My heart raced as I hurried to find out what would happen next, and that was only half way through! I was pleased Trent up his game, I must admit to not being his biggest fan in A Single Step, but as Before The Dawn went on I couldn't help but find him rather tasty myself! Not that Emma needs him to look after her, she is right that she can take care of herself, and boy does she prove it! The other characters are well written (ahh, Carlton, bless!) and I love the manor; you can't help but feel happy for Emma that she finally has a new family around her.

Before the Dawn is full of suspense, action and romance and I'm looking forward to the final book!

It is fitting to call Kings and Queens a saga, a parallel between one of our most famous kings and how his life might have played out had he been head of a company in the late 20th century rather than of a realm in the 16th century, as it spans effortlessly over four decades.

The story begins in 1971 with the loyal, homely Cathy (wife number 1 and Catherine of Aragon) and ends in 2007 with the sensible and likeable Kate (Catherine Parr), who is definitely my favourite of all Harry's 'wives'. Harry himself remains illusive - we don't ever see events from his point of view, the nearest we get is Will Brandon, Harry's rock and best friend throughout his turbulent life. I was intrigued to see how Terry would deal with the infamous executions of Henry VIII's reign of terror, and I wasn't disappointed! There is so much detail and research in K&Q, and it would take hours of my own research to work out what of the smaller detail is based on actual fact and what is more artistic license, but why would you bother when you have such a rich tapestry of characters to love (Hannah, Kate) and loathe (Keira!) without needing to know all the history? I also loved the background detail of the decades; Terry really gives you a sense of time and place, one of her great strengths as a storyteller.

I enjoyed the final chapters the most, particularly the parallels between the blossoming of Harry's children and Tudor history. I'm very much looking forward to her sequel to see just how Jasper copes (although I think we can guess)! I hope the saga goes on and on, into Erin's 'reign' and beyond, but that might be asking a bit too much from Ms Tyler - although I do hope it's not!

I had been looking forward to the second instalment of the Clara Vine series since Black Roses, and I certainly wasn't disappointed. Set in 1937, four years after Black Roses, Jane Thynne presents a chilling and fascinating portrayal of pre-war Nazi Germany through the eyes of English actress Clara, who combines an acting career in Berlin with subterfuge against the Nazi state, and her American journalist friend Mary. Both women work to uncover the mysterious death of Anna Hansen, a bride at one of Himmler's sinister Bride Schools, only to discover a cover-up which goes to the top of the Nazi Party.

Vine's vivid use of description, her storytelling and scene-setting are a joy to read. I have a great interest in the Nazi hierarchy, so I particularly love the scenes involving real-life characters, including the eccentric Mitford sisters, the menacing Doktor Goebbels and the Windsors, who appear completely out of their depth in Hitler's Germany.

I cannot wait for book 3, which Jane Thynne has hinted involves Eva Braun, a woman even more enigmatic and shrouded in mystery than the Nazi's official First Lady, Magda Goebbels. (who features heavily in Black Roses). May Clara Vine live on!

1 comment:

  1. This was a lovely surprise to find having just risen from my sickbed after being completely out of it for what feels forever! Super new reads to add to my ever growing list as well - many thanks Emma.