Category Archives: Recommended

First Frost

by James Henry

First FrostR D Wingfield’s loveable detective DI “Jack” Frost has long been a favourite of mine, both the books and their TV adaptation. The irascible, bumbling and totally politically incorrect detective’s original appearances are a great example of how this kind of stories should be. For me, Frost’s irreverent ways, his disinclination for completing paperwork and his constant battles with authority present a character I can relate to. In this, the first prequel written by the team of James Gurbutt and Henry Sutton, we are transported back to 1981. Frost is a Detective Sergeant and already has a reputation as a good detective, even if his ways are sometimes unorthodox and his matter makes him difficult to work with. Superintendent Mullet has recently arrived at the Denton station and is determined to stamp his authority on the place. For him, Frost epitomises all that is worst about the place.

Keeping with the format that made Wingfield’s original series so popular and successful, in First Frost, DS Frost has to deal with several unrelated crimes, including terrorists, murder, bank robberies and a missing young girl. Trying to keep track of all the separate cases, whilst covering for absent inspectors and missing paperwork, Frost and Mullet clash from the very start.

The interweaving plots ensure the pace is consistent and at times as messy as the belligerent detective trying to unravel it all. The character of Frost os maintained throughout and this peek into his pre-Inspector days is a very clever way for the two writers to resurrect the grumpy old so-and-so.

I really enjoyed the story, the characters and the uncompromising way Gurbutt and Sutton kept faith with R D Wingfield’s creation. First Frost is an excellent novel in its own right, but as part of the Frost series, it is indistinguishable from the originals. A great piece of fiction very well written. 

The One Plus One

One Plus Oneby Jojo Moyes

Having previously read several Jojo Moyes books I was pretty sure what to expect – captivating characters, a great plot and quality writing. And that is exactly what I got. The plot itself is typical rom-com fodder, but the important thing is the way it is told. Jojo Moyes has the ability to make her characters come to life on the page. 

We all know how hard it can be to recover when life when knocks us down, and how difficult it can be to retain our optimism when you feel that universe is conspiring against us. But that eternal optimism despite everything life has thrown at her is what makes the leading lady, Jess Thomas, such an endearing character. Despite having to hold down two jobs to keep her and her two children fed and watered, she remains confident that things will get better. 

On the other hand, Ed Nichols has it all: the perfect job, a flat in London, a holiday home by the sea, his own company and, on the face of it, a bright future.

But all is not as it seems, and that is where the story begins. 

The One Plus One is a modern love story with just a hint of the Romeo and Juliet about it. But like all good books, there is a lot more going on underneath the surface. Jess’s optimism is tested to its limits by the circumstances of a life she no longer seems to have any control over. But it is that very “silver lining” approach that turns Ed’s life around. As he faces losing everything he has ever worked for, seeing at first hand Jess’s determination to do the best for her children is something of a revelation. He begins to realise that for one he has the opportunity to do some real good, to do something that will improve the life of someone else.

It doesn’t hurt that on their journey – physical and metaphorical – they find themselves growing ever closer.

For me, Jojo Moyes is one of those writers that can turn a seemingly simple tale into something quite deep and inspiring. Her characters are easily identifiable and I can’t help feeling some empathy towards them and their plights. Whilst tragedy is always at the heart of a good novel, particularly a love story like this one, humour is also a key element, and in The One Plus One Jojo Moyes gets the balance just right. It is witty, absorbing and a joy to read. 

 

 

 

The Other Hand

The Other Handby Chris Cleave

According to the blurb on the back of this book, the story is too special for them to say anything about what happens. They even implore the reader not to tell anyone once they have read it. All we are told is that it is the story of two women whose lives “collide” where there is a terrible choice to be made. Then they meet again two years later. And that’s it! There is even a letter inside from the editor saying all kinds of wonderful things about the story.

But does it live up to these lofty expectations?

This is not just the story of the two women whose tales are being told. It is the story of a clash of cultures, of hope, desperation, despair and love. On the face of it, Sarah and Little Bee’s live’s are about as different as you can imagine, but underneath the surface, they are not too dissimilar. 

In my experience, over-hyped books tend to be disappointing. However, in The Other Hand, Chris Cleave has written the kind of story that is bound to make everyone that reads it stop and think about the absurdity and the cruelty of the world we live in. Both of the women here make sacrifices that will cost them dearly, but they do so without hesitation. 

I found it to be very moving, told in two distinctly different voices that Cleave maintains throughout. Whilst I wouldn’t say the book has changed my life or perspective, it was as enlightening as it was entertaining. 

The Other Hand is not an easy read, but it is worth the effort.

Northanger Abbey (The Austen Project #2)

Northanger Abbeyby Val McDermid

Northanger Abbey is the second in the series of books reimagining some of the works of Jane Austen. Of Austen’s books, Northanger Abbey is probably the least well known, but it has always held a certain fascination for me. Although it follows the traditional girl meets boy, they fall in love, are separate by circumstances before finally coming together for the obligatory happy ending, Northanger Abbey has a darker and more intriguing theme. And it is that element of the story that seems to have attracted McDermid to the Austen Project.

At first it might seem rather strange to have a respected crime writer tackling a piece of romantic fiction. But Northanger Abbey’s sinister undercurrent provides the perfect vehicle for McDermid’s style.

Bringing these books into the 21st century does require some imaginative thinking, but to me what is most intriguing is just how little needs to change. In this interpretation, only the location has changed, moving the bulk of the action from the original Bath to modern day Edinburgh, where the Fringe provides the necessary gatherings and public events. Consequently, Northanger Abbey is now in the Scottish Lowlands which seems rather more fitting than the original.

The story remains virtually unchanged, as do the characters, with just the occasional tweak to bring their stories up to date. Catheryn Morland is the same innocent young woman, sometimes struggling to tell the difference between reality and the plots of the books she reads and begins to invent her own theories about the family and events that inhabit Northanger Abbey.

As you would expect from a writer with McDermid’s reputation, Northanger Abbey is well written and full of pace and drama and not a little wit and tension. As a fan of Miss Austen’s work, I have approached each of these reimaginings with just a little trepidation. These books have become part of our literary heritage, but their language and settings are not to everyone’s taste.

What this series does is make Austen’s original stories more accessible to a wider audience. For me, the originals can never be improved on. The language, settings and manners of the time are as much a part of the book as the story itself. However, I very much enjoyed this retelling of one of my favourite Austen stories and would happy recommend it to fans and novices alike.

Reading this book has also reminded me of the works of one of our most respected modern authors. I will definitely make an effort to pick up a book or two in the near future. 

Me Before You

Me Before Youby Jojo Moyes

Me Before You is not a romance, it is a lover story as intense and compelling as any I have read before. 

Lou Clark and Will Traynor are the unlikely couple at the centre of this tale. Will is a former high flyer from the City. He has travelled the world, enjoyed extreme sports and love more than his fair share of women. But following a tragic motorcycle accident, his life has changed dramatically and it is not a life he wants to continue living.

Lou Clark, on the other hand, has hardly every travelled beyond the confines of her home town, has a long-term boyfriend and has just lost her job at the local tea shop. 

When the two are brought together, it looks as if the clash of their very different personalities can only mean disaster. But no, whilst there is plenty of friction between the two characters, the sparks that fly ignite a flame that neither could have anticipated.

Whilst this may sound like a typical bit of romantic fiction, it is not. Jojo Moyes doesn’t write that kind of fiction. Through Will the reader is forced to face the question of assisted suicide. For him, the life he faces as a quadriplegic is an anathema, it is the very opposite of everything he wants for himself, and the prospect of a life of pain, sickness and dependence is too much. For Lou, life is precious and she will do anything she can to make Will change his mind. She has just six months to convince Will that he does have things to live for before he makes his one-way trip to Dignitas.

The subject is handled with real care and respect. I cannot tell from the writing which side of the argument she herself supports. I enjoyed the love story that runs through the book, but was also moved by the tragic tale of a man facing his own morality. 

Jojo Moyes has a relaxed but engaging style that pulls the reader in from the very first page and doesn’t let go until she has wrung all the emotion out of you. As I said at the beginning, this book is much more than romantic fiction. I was transfixed by the characters and their stories. The way that Lou’s relationships with her boyfriend and family develop as she begins to discover new depths in her own character as heartwarming. 

A really good book that will keep you hooked to the very end. 

The Girl on the Train

the girl on the trainby Paula Hawkins

I read this book just a matter of weeks before the film was released, and at the time of writing I had not yet seen it, so can’t comment on any similarities or differences between them. What I can say is that I can understand why it was transferred to film.

The story is told through the eyes of the three women at the centre of the action. Each tells their own story in the form a diary, but not all running synchronously. 

The first we meet is Rachael, on her morning commute into London. She catches the same train every day and knows the stops and houses on the route very well. She begins to invent stories about the people she sees, in particular the young couple whose house she invariable stops beside as the train waits for signals to change. Little does she know that very soon she is going to be more intimately involved in the life of Megan and Tom than she could ever have anticipated. 

Next up is Megan, whose story begins a year before Rachael’s. As her tale creeps closer to the present we discover that pretty young Megan has a dark secret that threatens not just her relationship, but her life.

The third side of this intriguing triangle is Anna. Now married to Rachael’s ex-husband, Anna struggles to keep her new husband on the path she has set out for him. 

As their separate stories weave in and out of each other, each must face their own demons, be that drink, sex or a past they cannot hide forever. Each character has something to hide, something that threatens everything they have built, and it is the unraveling of these secrets that makes the book so utterly compelling.

From the very beginning this book grips the reader and keeps you guessing right to the very end. Just when you think you know the truth, Hawkins pulls the rug out from under your feet! The Girl on the Train is full of imaginative twists and turns, whilst keeping the integrity of the characters and the overall plot. Well written and utterly compelling, The Girl on the Train is a book that is well deserving of its position on the bestseller lists.

Their Finest Hour and a Half

their finest hour and a halfby Lissa Evans

Set mainly in London during the Blitz, Their Finest Hour and a Half is a witty and heart-warming story about life on the home-front. It has a wonderful cast of characters, each dealing with the challenges of the war in different ways.

For some, like actor Ambrose Hilliard, times are tough as he tries to adapt to the changes in the film industry. For others, like advertising copywriter Catrin Cole and seamstress Edith Beadmore, the conflict opens new doors with unexpected opportunities. 

I found the book utterly compelling. Lissa Evans manages to combine a gentle wit with some touching and emotional moments. Her characters are believable and consistent throughout.

The war itself plays a large part in the plot, the deprivations and difficulties faced by Londoners during this period is brought vividly to life by Lissa Evans’ wonderfully crafted pros. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the style, plot and the historical realism of this book. 

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)

Game of Thronesby George R R Martin

Game of Thrones is a worldwide phenomena. The TV serialisation has captured the imaginations of millions, becoming one of the most talked about shows of the last few years. I am one of those who has found myself captivated by the intrigue and savagery of the story, so I thought it was about time I read the books.

Very often the book and the TV or film version differ a great deal, with screenwriters taking the plot off in a completely different direction and introducing new characters along the way. But I am pleased to say that in this case, this has not happened. The bulk of what I read on the page I could remember from the screen. This can sometimes be a hindrance as the producer’s vision is usually quite different from my own. 

Game if Thrones is set in a fictional world where dragons and magic exist, but only just. The story is centred around the fight for the Iron Throne, the seat of the king of the seven kingdoms of Westeros. But as the various houses fight with each other for what they see as the ultimate prize, events in the frozen north and the deserts of the east look set to upset all their plans.

The book is filled with wonderful characters, some you love, others you will hate (all for the right reasons) and the multi-layer storyline drives the characters and plots almost relentlessly. Despite the weaving in and out of the various stories, the book is easy to read and totally captivating. George R R Martin is a natural storyteller. He makes his characters believable and simple to understand, and the way he weaves the different threads of the tale together is nothing short of genius. I loved the book even more than the series, and that is saying something. 

Captivating, cleverly plotted and full of interesting characters, Game of Thrones is as immersive and imaginative tale of intrigue, murder, regicide, incest and war, with a little bit of magic and some dragons thrown in for good measure, as you could possible want? 

I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

The Girl You Left Behind

by Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left BehindI was offered this book by my daughter who thought the subject might interest me. Although I was a little sceptical at first I very soon found myself drawn into the lives of two very similar women living a hundred years apart.
 
Sophie and Liv are linked by a painting called The Girl You Left Behind. It is a portrait of Sophie by her husband Eduard who is away fighting in the trenches of 1917 France. It is all that she has of Eduard as she struggles to protect her family during the German occupation of Northern France.
 
For both women, the painting is not just a link to the men they have lost, it has become a symbol of their relationships. Neither is willing to let go of either.
 
The book jumps between the two women’s stories, mixing first and third person help separate the two narratives.
Sophie’s story is particularly compelling and very tragic. Told from her perspective it gives a great insight into the frequently overlooked. Through Sophie we learn a lot the horrors of the trenches, but behind the lines people tried to continue their daily lives as best they could. Food and resources were scarce and Sophie must do all she can to protect what is left of her family.
 
Liv on the other hand is a widow who lives in contemporary London. The Girl You Left Behind hangs in her flat as a reminder of her late husband, a gift from their honeymoon.
 
Despite the differences in time and place, both women have to face great tragedy and loss. And for both of them, Sophie’s portrait has become a symbol of hope and love. And in both cases the introduction of a stranger into their lives forces them to make a difficult decision and tests their inner strength.
 
It is a gripping and emotional story. I found myself conflicted. On one hand I couldn’t put the book down and wanted desperately to get to the conclusion; on the other hand I didn’t want the story to end.
 
The way in which the two storylines are woven together is imaginative, keeping a thread that is easy to follow. I found both women to be strong characters and loved the way they are prepared to fight for the things that matter to them.
 
Sophie’s tale is the more intriguing of the two, mainly because it’s setting in a place and time I know little about. But it is Liv’s story that brings it all together. The ending is not what I expected but on reflection, is the only way it could have worked.
 
A really good read and a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. It kept me hooked from the very beginning.

 

Anissa’s Redemption

by Zack Love

Anissa's RedemptionAnissa’s Redemption is the second and concluding part of Zack Love’s Syrian Virgin series. In the first book we were introduced to 16-year old Anissa, living with her family in the Syrian city of Homs at the start of the civil war. Being Christians, they became targets for the Islamist extremists and Anissa was forced to flee from her home. She must now build a new life for herself in New York as she comes to terms with the tragic loss of her family.

In this sequel, Anissa must make some difficult decisions about her relationships and finally come to terms with the secrets of her past she kept hidden from everyone, including herself.

But she is not the only one hiding deep and troubling secrets.

Through her letters we see Anissa’s struggle with her feelings for the two men in her life: fellow student Michael who leads the Mideast Christian Association, working to help fellow Christians in war-torn Syria; and Julien, her wealthy and charismatic college lecturer whose own secrets threaten their growing relationship.

Anissa’s Redemption, told through letters and journal entries takes the reader on a roller-coaster journey. Written with a sympathetic understanding of the realities of the situation in the Middle East and its affect on the people involved, this book presents both a touching and romantic story combined with stark reality and a glimpse of the darker side of the human soul.

In Anissa, Zack Love has created a strong but vulnerable character who I found myself wishing was real. It is much more common these days to find strong female characters, both in books and in film. As she fights her demons and builds a better life for herself, Anissa is one of the most captivating of this new breed of leading ladies.

An excellent conclusion to a moving and well written story.