Showing posts with label Friday book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Friday book review. Show all posts

Friday, 8 March 2013

Friday book review - A Sea Change by Veronica Henry

I’m a huge fan of Quick Reads, the “bite-size” books that aim to get more people reading. Around one in six adults of working age in the UK find reading difficult and many never pick up a book. That’s where Quick Reads come in. Launched in 2006, Quick Reads  commissioned a host of big name authors to write short books that are specifically designed to be easy to read. The initiative has proved so successful that over the last seven years 4.5 million books have been distributed and three million library loans clocked up.

New authors are added every year, with the latest starry batch of names including Andy McNab, Kathy Lette, Minette Walters and Veronica Henry. The novels cost a bargain £1 each and have turned loads of previously reluctant readers into “book addicts.”
I’ve read several Quick Reads over the years and when I spotted A Sea Change by Veronica Henry in Foyle’s at St Pancras the other day I snapped it up to read on the Eurostar.
The story was perfect for my train journey. It’s only 90 pages long but has all the charm and insight of Henry’s longer novels. Set in the fictional seaside village of Everdene, it’s the tale of ice-cream seller Jenna, who turns up for work one hot summer’s day to find that she’s been sacked. With a flaky family, no money to pay her rent and no work on the horizon, she takes drastic action – action that catches the attention of a young copper sitting on the beach.
Henry’s story is thought provoking, easy to read and as light as the summer breeze. The perfect Quick Read in fact.
A Sea Change by Veronica Henry (Orion, £1)

Friday, 1 March 2013

Friday book review - With All My Love by Patricia Scanlan

What a treat to curl up on the sofa on a chilly winter’s night and read Patricia Scanlan’s latest novel.

With a clutch of bestsellers to her name (including Love and Marriage and City Girl), Scanlan is renowned for writing heart-warming novels about family, friendship and love.

Her new book, With All My Love is no exception. I read it in one delicious go, with tears streaming down my face by the time I got to the last chapter.

Once again, Scanlan focuses on a family – a family torn apart by a festering tangle of secrets and lies.

The book opens as Briony McAllister sits in a sunny park on the Costa del Sol, watching her young daughter playing with her dolls. Briony’s mother, Valerie Harris, has recently bought a house in Spain and Briony and her daughter have flown out from Dublin to help her settle in.

But when Briony takes an old photograph album out of her bag and starts to leaf through it, a letter she has never seen before falls out. The letter is addressed to her and as Briony reads it she realises that her mother has been lying to her for more than twenty years. Her mother had always maintained that Briony’s beloved grandmother cut off contact when she was little and didn’t want to see her – but it was an out and out lie.

As the lives of the three women unfold, Scanlan observes the conflict from each point of view. None of the women are without blame, but Scanlan cleverly makes the reader sympathetic towards each of them in turn. One moment I felt sorry for Tessa, Briony’s abandoned grandmother, the next I felt infuriated by her antagonism towards Valerie. For instance, when Valerie falls in love with Tessa’s youngest and favourite son, Tessa does everything she can to put a stop to the relationship. She makes snide remarks about Valerie’s clothes, warns her not to distract her son from his studies and acidly refers to her as “Miss Clinging Vine.”

Best of all, Scanlan keeps readers guessing about the women’s secrets right till the very end. There was no way on earth I could cast the book aside and stop reading. I had my suspicions, but I had to find out why Valerie had taken such drastic action and deprived Tessa of her precious relationship with her granddaughter.

PS. Watch out too, for Scanlan’s brilliant evocation of life in the late 70s and 80s, when Valerie first meets Tessa’s son. Glittery boob tubes, Queen singing We Will Rock You, Charlie perfume – Scanlan has remembered it all.

With All My Love by Patricia Scanlan (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

Friday, 11 January 2013

Friday Book Review - Crusher by Niall Leonard

Like most novelists, Niall Leonard pays tribute to a whole host of people in his acknowledgements.

But there’s one name that stands out from the crowd. “And above all to my beloved wife Erika,” writes Leonard, “for her boundless love, loyalty, humour, encouragement and inspiration.”

Yes, the Erika in question is EL James, whose Fifty Shades of Grey has sold well over 6 million copies in the UK and has become the country’s bestselling book ever.

Leonard is unlikely to match his wife’s sales any time soon but Crusher, his debut novel, is a gritty, fast-paced thriller for teenagers that gripped me from start to finish.

Funnily enough, it was James herself who encouraged her TV screenwriter husband (his credits include Wire in the Blood and Silent Witness) to write the book in the first place. He decided to take part in the 2011 NaNoWriMo (the annual novel writing challenge) and Crusher was the result.

The novel tells the story of teenager Finn Maguire, who returns home from his dead-end café job one day to find that his stepdad has been bludgeoned to death.

Finn has no idea who might have had a grudge against the impoverished, out-of-work actor. He is even more stunned when it turns out that the police see him as the prime suspect for the murder. As one cop tells him: "Ninety per cent of the time the person who reports finding a dead body is the murderer... You might as well have written a confession in your stepfather's blood."

Determined to prove his innocence and find out who hated his stepdad enough to murder him, Finn resolves to track the killer down. But his quest takes him into the scary heart of the London underworld and exposes dark family secrets from the past.

I’m clearly not the target audience for Crusher but Leonard, unlike many YA writers, is a brilliant at getting inside the head of a troubled teenager. Boys of 14 and up will enjoy it, but I reckon girls and adult readers will too.

Crusher by Niall Leonard (Doubleday, £12.99)

Friday, 21 December 2012

Friday book review - The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable

If you’re racing to get your Christmas shopping done and need an enchanting story for girls aged ten and up, then The Wolf Princess could be just the ticket.

The first novel from journalist turned author Cathryn Constable, it’s the captivating account of penniless orphan Sophie Smith. Stuck in her drab London boarding school with her two best friends – brainy Marianne and immaculately groomed Delphine - she longs for something exciting to happen.

Then, thanks to a mysterious Russian visitor, the trio suddenly find themselves on a school trip to St Petersburg.  But when they arrive they are swept off by train to a winter palace – where a charismatic princess lavishes them with gifts, takes them skating on a frozen lake and weaves stories about her family’s tragic past. 

With its magical descriptions of ice, snow, diamonds and white wolves who prowl the palace grounds at night, The Wolf Princess is the perfect read for a chilly Christmas afternoon. The cover, as you can see, is glorious too.

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (Chicken House, £6.99)

Friday, 7 December 2012

Giveaway - win a copy of Michael Morpurgo's brilliant new novel

Michael Morpurgo is one of the most prolific writers around. He began writing stories as a primary schoolteacher 40 years ago and has since written more than 120 books. I remember my two children excitedly discovering The Butterfly Lion, a tale that so enthralled them that they proceeded to whizz through every other Morpurgo book they could lay their hands on.

Morpurgo, who was children’s laureate from 2003 to 2005, has the knack of writing books that catapult you into a different world. And none more so than his latest novel, A Medal for Leroy.

Partly inspired by Morpurgo’s own life and partly by the life of Walter Tull, the only black soldier to serve in the British Army during the First World War, A Medal for Leroy is a poignant story, movingly told.

As Morpurgo explains: “Walter Tull was the inspiration for Leroy in my story. This extraordinary young man had grown up in an orphanage in London, had played football for Spurs, then joined up with his pals when war began in 1914.

“He was incredibly brave in the field of battle and deserved a medal for gallantry. He never received one. He died leading his men into attack in 1918. He has no known grave. Many of the issues raised in this book spring from the life and death of this brave young man. This is why the book is dedicated to his memory.”

A Medal for Leroy, charmingly illustrated by Michael Foreman, is the story of Michael, a little boy living in London with his French mother after the Second World War.

Michael’s father died a hero before he was born, shot down in a dogfight over the Channel in 1940. But Michael has one of his medals and occasionally visits his two aged aunts, Auntie Pish and Auntie Snowdrop, to scatter snowdrops on the sea in his memory.

After Auntie Snowdrop's death, Michael discovers a writing pad tucked behind a photograph of his father. It's filled with his aunt's writing and contains family secrets that have remained hidden for years. “I knew even as I began to read – and I have no idea how I knew – that my life would be changed forever," says Michael, "that after I’d read this I would never be the same person again.”

Morpurgo has had a stupendous year. First the movies of War Horse and Private Peaceful (weepies, both of them) hit the big screen, and now he has written this fine new novel. Suitable for children aged nine and over, it is compelling and thought-provoking. Vintage Morpurgo.

Thanks to HarperCollins, I have two copies of A Medal for Leroy to give away. All you have to do is leave a comment about your favourite children's book at the end of this post.

This giveaway is open to readers with UK postal addresses only.

Plus, as a special Christmas promotion, you can buy A Medal for Leroy and get Little Manfred free.  Find out more here.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Friday book review - The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis

With Christmas less than a month away (eek!), I’m busy writing a newspaper piece about great festive reads for children.

One of my favourites so far is Richard Curtis’s The Empty Stocking. The prodigiously talented Curtis – director and screenwriter extraordinaire – has written an enchanting tale for children, with sweet illustrations by Rebecca Cobb.

It’s the story of seven-year-old twin sisters Sam and Charlie, who look the same but couldn’t be more different.

Sam is angelic, while Charlie is quite naughty. Or as Curtis puts it: “Not interested in being obedient. Quite often very grumpy. Not very fond of telling the complete truth. But very fond of eating sweets, making a filthy racket and having too much fun.” (Actually, come to think of it, Charlie sounds the life and soul of the party).

The little girls can’t wait for Christmas and excitedly hang their stockings at the end of their beds on Christmas Eve. But the big question is - will Santa fill both their stockings with presents this year? Or is it time he got tough?

This is a lovely picture book for small children – and as well as being an exuberant and heart-warming tale, it’s got an important message too.

The Empty Stocking by Richard Curtis (Puffin, £6.99)

Friday, 16 November 2012

Friday book review - Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd

Writer Hilary Boyd probably can’t quite believe it. A month ago, her first novel had sold just 3,000 copies – a respectable number, but nothing to write home about.

Four weeks later, it’s a different story. Largely through word of mouth, Thursdays in the Park has turned into a smash hit.

The book’s fortunes changed when Amazon discounted the ebook version to 20p. I spotted the novel a couple of weeks ago and was so entranced by the title and the cover – and yes, the price – that I downloaded it straight away. I was clearly one of many because the book has now sold more than 100,000 copies. Apparently Charles Dance is interested in starring in the movie and and the foreign rights have been snapped up in France, Sweden, Finland and Germany too. Not only that, Hilary Boyd has been interviewed by scores of newspapers and even popped up on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning.

But after all the excitement, is the book any good? Well yes, actually, it is. I read it earlier this week and tore through it in one go. Well-written, heart-warming and sweet, it’s the story of Jeanie, a 60-year-old woman trapped in a safe but sexless marriage. The light of her life is her little granddaughter Ellie, whom she looks after on Thursday afternoons. The pair always go to the park, and it’s there that she meets Ray and his small grandson Dylan. Ray is kind, funny and easy to talk to – everything that Jeanie’s husband isn’t, in fact – and much to the horror of Jeanie’s family the pair find themselves falling in love. 

Thursdays in the Park has been dubbed “gran-lit,” but readers of all ages will enjoy it. Boyd, who’s 62, says she wanted to write about romance and love at “a certain age” and show that these days becoming a grandmother doesn’t mean “polyester slacks and a blue rinse.” Not in Jeanie’s case it doesn’t, anyway.

Boyd’s book is far from being a great literary work, but it’s an insightful and compelling tale. There are a couple of sex scenes, but they’re tastefully done. Thursdays in the Park may be the talk of publishing circles right now but it’s nothing like Fifty Shades of Grey, I promise…

Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd (Quercus, £7.99). The ebook is currently available for 20p on Amazon. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Friday book review - The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes

I do love Marian Keyes’s books. Her latest, The Mystery of Mercy Close, proves yet again that Keyes is in a league of her own. Even when she’s writing about hard-hitting subjects like depression and bankruptcy, as she is here, she’s perceptive and funny, moving and wise.

The novel’s heroine is Helen Walsh, the youngest and stroppiest of Mammy Walsh’s five daughters. Older sisters Claire, Rachel, Maggie and Anna have all starred in earlier Keyes novels, so this time round it’s Helen’s turn in the spotlight.

After spells as a make-up artist and the “world’s worst waitress,” Helen has now trained as a private investigator and set up her own business. But with the credit crunch at its height, her work has dried up, her flat has been repossessed and she’s had to move back in with her parents. Most worrying of all, she’s sinking into the depression that has plagued her on and off throughout her life.

Helen explains her situation in her own inimitable way: “…when the crash hit, I was one of the first things to go,” she says. “Private investigators are luxury items and the It bags and I came out of things very badly.”

But out of the blue her conman ex-boyfriend asks her to track down a missing musician. Wayne Diffney, the “wacky one” from boyband Laddz, has gone missing just five days before the group’s sell-out comeback show.

Helen isn’t keen on getting involved with her shady ex-lover a second time, especially as she’s got charismatic copper Artie Devlin in her life, but she reluctantly agrees.

The sharp-tongued Helen, with her “shovel list” of things she hates - dogs, doctors’ receptionists and the smell of fried eggs (I’m with her there) - and her love of Scandinavian box sets and cheese and coleslaw sandwiches, is one of Keyes’s most memorable creations. I hope she gets to star in another novel. And soon…

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes (Michael Joseph, £18.99)

Friday, 5 October 2012

Friday book review - Ratburger by David Walliams

David Walliams is the fastest growing children’s author in the UK  – so children aged nine and up will be thrilled to hear that his fifth novel has hit the bookshops.

Like its predecessors, Ratburger is hilarious, sad and at times downright revolting. It isn’t for children of a nervous disposition but most young readers will laugh uproariously from start to finish – in between gasping in horror at Burt, Walliams’s evil, burger-van driving new villain.

Walliams excels at writing uproarious, laugh-out loud stories that combine humour and heart, and this one’s no exception. Zoe, his latest young heroine, has a back story that brings tears to your eyes. Her mum died when she was a baby, her dad’s lost his job at the local ice cream factory and Zoe’s got a horrible new stepmother called Sheila who eats prawn cocktail crisps all day and is so idle she asks Zoe to pick her nose for her.

The only bright spot in Zoe’s lonely life is Gingernut, her pet hamster – but that ends in tears when Zoe finds him dead in his cage. She suspects Sheila might have had something to do with Gingernut’s sudden demise but as she says, “what kind of person would want to murder a defenceless little hamster?”

But one night Zoe hears a baby rat scrabbling in the corner of her room and decides to adopt him as her new pet. Desperate to hide the rodent from the wicked Sheila, she takes him to school in her blazer pocket and calls him Armitage (after spotting the name Armitage Shanks in the girls’ toilets).

With brilliant illustrations by Tony Ross, this story is great for boys and girls alike. Walliams is a huge fan of the late, great Roald Dahl and children who enjoy Dahl's books will definitely like this.

Ratburger by David Walliams (HarperCollins, £12.99) 

Friday, 24 August 2012

Friday book review - Monday to Friday Man by Alice Peterson

Alice Peterson must have been stunned when her sweet romantic novel about a group of dog walkers soared to the top of the Kindle charts in the UK this week. And she was probably even more flabbergasted to learn that her book, Monday to Friday Man, had knocked the third instalment of Fifty Shades of Grey into second place.

I was so intrigued by her feat (echoes of David and Goliath) that I immediately downloaded Monday to Friday Man to my Kindle. It’s available in book form, but the e-book is currently selling on Amazon for 20p.

Monday to Friday Man is Peterson’s third novel and tells the story of 30-something Gilly Brown, whose fiancé jilts her two weeks before their wedding. Devastated by his rejection and struggling to make ends meet, Gilly fleetingly considers moving to the wilds of Dorset, then hits on the idea of renting out her spare room during the week. It works a treat when the glamorous Jack Baker turns up on her doorstep.

Jack is a hotshot TV producer working on an X Factor-type show called Stargazer and most of Gilly’s friends think he’s a real catch. Except, that is, her dog Ruskin, who is deeply suspicious, and the enigmatic Guy, the newest member of Gilly’s dog-walking group.

Peterson, whose promising career as a tennis player was ended by rheumatoid arthritis at 18, was inspired to write her book by Darcy, her beloved terrier. She walks him in London’s leafy Ravenscourt Park with friends – many of whom are name-checked in her acknowledgements.

If you’re after a literary tome, then Monday to Friday Man isn’t the book for you. But as an antidote to the torrent of erotic novels being published in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey, it’s an easy and at times touching read. Even though the romantic storyline is predictable, Gilly’s fractured family background and childhood loss are moving and convincingly told.

Monday to Friday Man has sold more than 500,000 copies since the novel was published on July 21 and looks set to sell many more. Peterson will be hard pressed to match EL James’s 40 million global sales, but all the same, she’s doing pretty well…

Friday, 10 August 2012

Friday Book Review - Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham

Mark Billingham began his career as a stand-up comedian. But these days he writes crime novels and reckons the two occupations have a lot in common. “As a comedian you walk out on stage and you have a minute to hook them or they’ll start booing,” he said in a recent interview. “As a writer it’s very similar. A reader doesn’t have time to say ‘I’ll give him 50 pages as it’s not very good yet, but I hope it’ll get better.”

Billingham has built up a huge following for his addictive crime novels starring Detective Inspective Tom Thorne. And deservedly so. But he writes standalone stories too, like Rush of Blood, his latest.

Rush of Blood is the chilling account of three couples who meet on holiday in Florida and, even though they don’t have much in common, become friends. Then, on the last night of the trip, the teenage daughter of a fellow holidaymaker goes missing.

The couples return home in shock but make an effort to meet over the coming months, each pair hosting a dinner party in turn. As they get to know each other better, dark secrets and ugly obsessions emerge – especially after the young girl’s body is found and all six become murder suspects.

This is a compelling story that kept me on the edge of my seat till the very last page. If you like pacy, well written crime fiction, you’ll love this.

Rush of Blood by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown, £16.99)

Friday, 13 July 2012

Friday book review - Tuesday's Gone by Nicci French

My son gazed out of the car window and sighed. “If it doesn’t stop raining soon I’m going to leave Oxford and go and live somewhere hot,” he said.

I could understand his frustration. He’s just taken up road biking with a vengeance and five miles out of Oxford, lashed by wind and rain, his bike had suffered a flat tyre. He didn‘t have a puncture kit or bike pump so he did the next best thing and rang and asked me to collect him. No problem, except it was rush hour and by the time I got there he was dejected and completely drenched.

With rain forecast for the next few days (probably the next few months) I reckon there’s only one thing for it. Don’t emigrate, just batten down the hatches and get reading. As the rain pelted down, I curled up on my sofa and whizzed through Nicci French’s new novel in one go.

I’ve blogged about my admiration for Nicci French before. Nicci French is actually two writers - Suffolk-based husband and wife Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, who turn out cracking psychological thrillers. They have now launched a new eight-book crime series featuring a psychotherapist called Frieda Klein and I’m completely hooked.

The second in the series, Tuesday’s Gone, is out next week, and it’s even better than the first, Blue Monday. I’m very squeamish and the opening scene, where a social worker discovers a rotting, naked corpse in a delapidated Deptford flat, stopped me in my tracks. But I was so desperate to discover who he was and why on earth the confused woman living there kept trying to serve him afternoon tea that even if I’d wanted to, I simply couldn’t stop reading.

The copper leading the police investigation, DCI Karlsson (no one ever uses his first name), calls in Frieda Klein to help him get to the bottom of it all. And the deeper Frieda digs, the murkier the story gets.

Frieda is an intriguing character, with a complicated family history, an on-off lover and a fondness for walking the streets of London in the dead of night.

But after reading Tuesday's Gone I feel I’m getting to know her better. And with a plot that kept me on the edge of my seat and the promise of six more to come, all I can say is “ roll on book three…”

Tuesday's Gone by Nicci French (Michael Joseph, £12.99)

Friday, 6 July 2012

Friday book review - Cox by Kate Lace

My desk is piled high with review books right now. But there’s one particular novel that catches everyone’s attention. It’s Cox, Kate Lace’s latest book, which as well as the saucy title has an even saucier cover and strapline. Most important of all though, it’s a cracking story that deserves to fly off the shelves.

Fabulous magazine wittily called the book “Jilly Cooper in a boat,” and it’s the perfect description. If you like Cooper’s Riders, then you’ll love this tale of two rival rowers battling for a place in the London 2012 team.

One is the dark, brooding Dan (my favourite) while the other is the rich, arrogant Rollo (who I suspect Kate Lace secretly prefers). The pair went to the same posh school, though Dan’s mum was the dinner lady, while Rollo’s parents own a Downton Abbey-like pile with a tree-lined drive, lake, stables and scores of ancestral portraits. Dan and Rollo both won coveted places at Oxford, are both brilliant rowers and are now in fierce competition on the river too (though Rollo has a few dirty tricks up his sleeve to foil Dan).

Just to complicate matters further, they’re both keen on the same girl – Amy, a petite physiotherapist who works at Oxford’s John Radcliffe hospital and is a rowing cox in her spare time. Misunderstandings galore, Lycra-clad men, thrilling races and loads of steamy sex scenes (starting on page one) make for a fun summer read – or to quote Fabulous again, an “oar-some” one.

Cox by Kate Lace (Arrow, £6.99)

Friday, 29 June 2012

Friday book review - Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid

From the first haunting line – “They tried to make me go to my sister’s funeral today” – to the shocking denouement, Black Heart Blue is one of those books that you simply have to keep reading.

I tore through Louisa Reid’s debut novel in one sitting, horrified by the cruelty that twin sisters Hephzibah and Rebecca are forced to endure at the hands of their parents, and moved by their brave attempts to find freedom.

Black Heart Blue is billed as a young adult (YA) novel but I reckon teenagers and adults alike will be gripped by the story. Reid, an English teacher at a girls’ school in Cambridge, wrote it in five months and has produced an absorbing, pacy tale about horrific family secrets and what really goes on behind closed doors.

Hephzi and Rebecca are 16 when the novel begins. After a lifetime of being educated at home and not allowed to mix with other children, they’ve persuaded their father, an outwardly respectable vicar, to let them go to sixth-form college.  But while Hephzi is beautiful, daring and determined to lead a normal life with her friends, Rebecca, who’s been disfigured since birth, is very much in her shadow. Until, that is, Rebecca loses her twin in terrible circumstances and starts fighting back.   

The novel shifts back and forth in time as the two girls take it in turns to tell their stories, buttit’s so skilfully done that the narrative never loses its way. This gritty, dark tale isn’t for the faint-hearted but it’s astonishingly, breathtakingly good.

Black Heart Blue by Louisa Reid (Penguin, £6.99)

Friday, 15 June 2012

Friday book review - I Heart London by Lindsey Kelk

I sometimes wonder if I’m too old to be reading Lindsey Kelk’s I Heart books. They’re all about a chaotic 20-something called Angela Clark who flees to New York after discovering her boyfriend in flagrante with his mistress at her best friend’s wedding.

But former children’s book editor Kelk has a hilarious turn of phrase and a writing style that whizzes along at top speed. I read her first book, I Heart New York, before I’d ever visited the city and her enthusiasm for the Big Apple made me want to jump on a transatlantic flight plane straight away. The irrepressible Angela is an endearing character too, a sort of junior Bridget Jones, only without Mark Darcy and the big knickers, who puts the drizzle, warm beer and bad memories of London behind her and starts an exciting new life.

Now the fifth in the series, I Heart London, is out (Kelk cleverly brings new readers up to speed with the story so you don’t need to have read the earlier ones to enjoy it). It opens in New York but quickly sees the newly-engaged Angela summoned back to the UK by her very bossy mum, who’s desperate to meet her rock musician fiancé.

Kelk herself lives in New York these days and clearly loves it, apart from missing sherbert fountains, London and drinking gin and elderflower cocktails with her pals. But she regularly flits between the US and the UK and in her new book she makes Angela’s return to London authentic and real. From her first sight of the Thames from the plane (“the opening titles of EastEnders”) to her excitement at being able to buy Percy Pigs sweets at M&S, she’s clearly writing from the heart.

Publishing house Harper recently signed up three more books from Kelk, so I’ll be interested to see what she comes up with next. But if you’re looking for a great summer read that’s light as the summer breeze (I know, what summer?), then try I Heart London

PS. For more information on I Heart London and some great ideas about places to visit in London take a look at the I Heart London website, from bars and clubs to clothes and accessories.  

I Heart London by Lindsey Kelk (Harper, £7.99)

Friday, 8 June 2012

Friday book review - Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace

Jason Priestley (the disillusioned teacher and struggling freelance journalist, not the star of Beverly Hills 90210) is standing on a London street one evening when a girl drops half her belongings as she gets into a cab. He helps her to pick them up, but before he knows it the taxi roars off and she’s gone. Then it dawns on him that she’s left something behind – a small disposable camera.

Writer and broadcaster Danny Wallace has come up with a sensational starting point for his debut novel. It grabbed my attention immediately and I was desperate to discover what happened to the pair.

But oddly enough, even though I couldn’t wait to find out if Jason tracked the girl down or not, I wasn’t quite as gripped by Charlotte Street as I’d thought. The problem could well be that I expected too much. One critic has predicted that Charlotte Street will be this year’s One Day, while another marked it out as his top tip for 2012.

Even so, it’s an entertaining read and Wallace’s portrayal of 21st century London is spot on. As Jason hares around the capital (and on a jaunt up north) trying to discover who the girl is, I felt I was on the trail with him. Not only that, Wallace’s supporting characters are an eclectic and wonderfully portrayed mix – including Dev, Jason’s over-excitable, computer game-obsessed flatmate, Sarah, his slightly po-faced ex-girlfriend, and Abbey, a young singer who causes havoc at Sarah’s engagement party.

Charlotte Street would make a great movie and I’m not surprised that Working Title has snapped up the film rights. This is a fun, feel-good story, with a self-deprecating, likeable hero and an intriguing storyline. It augers well for Wallace’s next novel.

Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace (Ebury Press, £12.99)

Friday, 25 May 2012

Friday Book Review - The Life of Stephen Lawrence by Verna Allette Wilkins

“He was a wonderful son and a shining example of what any parent would want in a child. I miss him with a passion. Hopefully now he can rest in peace.”

Those are the moving words of Doreen Lawrence, whose 18 year old son Stephen was brutally murdered while he waited at a south east London bus-stop one evening in April 1993.

They’re featured in a sensitive and moving children’s book about the tragedy, which has just been updated following the January 2012 conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris for Stephen Lawrence’s murder. As author Verna Allette Wilkins writes: “The police are still working on the case as they believe that there were other men involved in Stephen’s death. These men have yet to be brought to justice.”

Even though The Life of Stephen Lawrence is aimed at nine to 11 year olds, I reckon everyone should read it.  As well as highlighting his senseless murder and the findings of the Macpherson Report, which contained 70 recommendations for changes needed in the police force, justice system and society to ensure “zero tolerance” for racism, it lists the powerful legacy he has left behind. There’s the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, launched by Doreen and Neville Lawrence to ensure future generations of young people enjoy the opportunities denied to their son, the annual Stephen Lawrence Memorial Lecture and the Stephen Lawrence 18:18 campaign, which helps disadvantaged youngsters access jobs in the law, media and other fields which are difficult to get into.

But as well as numerous ideas for discussion and debate, this quiet, dignified book really does celebrate Stephen’s life. It vividly portrays an impressive young man who was a brilliant runner, a talented artist and had ambitions to become an architect. He was a real self starter who’d done work experience at a firm of architects, got work as an extra on the film For Queen and Country and designed and sold T-shirts featuring famous rappers.

As Mr Gladwell, his teacher at junior school, said: “Stephen was a good lad. We must make sure that we help all our children learn to live in peace. What happened to Stephen must never happen again.”   

The Life of Stephen Lawrence by Verna Allette Wilkins (Tamarind, £4.99)

Friday, 11 May 2012

Friday book review - The New Jumper by Oliver Jeffers

Fashionistas who like to follow the crowd should read the latest book by super-talented artist Oliver Jeffers. They'd definitely learn a thing or two about having the courage to strike out and do something different.

The New Jumper is the first in Jeffers's new series about the Hueys, a group of characters who are all the same. They look the same, think the same and do the same things. Until one extraordinary day one of them decides to knit himself a new jumper. How on earth will the rest of the Hueys react? The Hueys’ name, incidentally, was inspired by Jeffers’s grandfather, who could never remember the names of his many grandchildren – so called all of them Huey.

In a nutshell, The New Jumper is a story about individuality. Even though the book is aimed at small children I’ve shown the book to several teenagers (the age when peer pressure to wear certain labels and listen to certain music really kicks in). And funnily enough, it has struck a chord with them all.

Jeffers, who grew up in Belfast but now lives in New York, certainly follows his own advice. His quirkily-illustrated books are totally different to most of the other children’s picture books on the market – and deserve the critical acclaim they’ve had.

I’ve been a fan of Jeffers’s work for a while. His books are perfect for the under-fives but his thought-provoking take on life appeals to older children too. His first story, Lost and Found, won a Nestle Children’s Book Prize Gold Award, but my favourite is Stuck, the zany tale of a little boy called Floyd. When Floyd gets his kite stuck in a tree, he tries to dislodge it by throwing everything he can think of – from the kitchen sink to a passing milkman. Take a look if you get the chance – it’s one of those books that brings a smile to everyone’s face.

The New Jumper by Oliver Jeffers (HarperCollins Children’s Books, £10.99)

Friday, 4 May 2012

Friday book review - The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

Peter Carey is a writer’s writer. He has won the Booker Prize twice and combines beautifully written prose with originality and emotional complexity.

That’s my opinion, anyway. Carey’s latest novel, The Chemistry of Tears, has received mixed reviews, but I loved it.

The story begins in London, on a blisteringly hot spring day in 2010. Catherine Gehrig, a museum conservator and horologist, has just received devastating news. Her married lover, the man she’s adored for 13 years, has dropped dead from a heart attack on the tube.

The clandestine nature of their affair means Catherine must grieve by herself and can’t even go to his funeral. The added irony is that while her job is all about intricacy and precision, in private she’s a complete mess. She drinks too much, takes too many pills and becomes ever so slightly unhinged.

Worried by the fragile state she’s in, Catherine’s boss gives her a secret project. He asks her to reconstruct an extraordinary clockwork duck commissioned by a 19th century Englishman as a “magical amusement” for his frail, consumptive son.

Even though she’s grief-stricken, Catherine becomes obsessed with the quest to rebuild the mechanical bird - and keen to discover why the child’s father went to such lengths to keep his promise to his son. Along the way, she starts to reflect on the mysteries of life and death and how the miracles of human invention often go catastrophically awry.

Set 150 years apart, these are the two intertwining strands at the heart of The Chemistry of Tears. A tender novel of secrets, love, grief and heartache, it’s ingenious, thought provoking and gloriously eccentric.

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey (Faber and Faber, £17.99)

Friday, 27 April 2012

Friday book review - Silver by Andrew Motion

From Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel to countless movies, we all know the Treasure Island story. There’s something timeless about the tale of Jim Hawkins, who sets sail across the world with the devious one-legged Long John Silver and a mutinous crew in search of buried treasure.

Stevenson intended to write a sequel but never did, so now Motion has taken up the challenge. His book starts in 1802, 40 years after the events of Treasure Island, and this time round it’s the story of Jim Hawkins’ son, confusingly also called Jim.

Young Jim’s mother died in childbirth and he lives with his father at an inn called the Hispaniola (after the ship that sailed to Treasure Island) in the Thames marshes. He spends his days roaming the estuaries, running errands and listening to his father’s memories of life on the high seas.

But one night, Jim spots a mysterious stranger beckoning to him from her rowing boat. The girl introduces herself as Natty, daughter of the infamous Long John Silver, and persuades him to go and meet her father. Long John Silver’s a bedridden wreck of a man now but even so, when he instructs the young pair to sail to Treasure Island and find the remaining treasure they jump to his command.

Jim steals his father’s original map and the duo set off across the Atlantic on a ship chartered by Long John Silver. But their voyage turns into a nightmare when they finally drop anchor and discover that Treasure Island is not as uninhabited as they expected.

Motion originally set out to write a children’s book but Silver is a novel that will appeal to readers of all ages. Beautifully written and genuinely exciting, it features noble seamen (including a sailor amusingly called Stevenson), murderous pirates and stories of love, heroism and mind-numbing cruelty.

Best of all, Motion’s novel stays true to Stevenson’s original. His descriptions of the Thames marshes and the bizarre island landscape are outstanding - as is his depiction of Jim’s realisation that he’s never going to be the same innocent boy again.

Silver by Andrew Motion (Jonathan Cape, £12.99)
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