Category Archives: Review

The Cursed Wife

The Cursed Wifeby Pamela Hartstone

The Cursed Wife is one of those books that is difficult to categorise. There is murder, suspense, revenge, mystery and even a hint of witchcraft, all centred around two “sisters” living in Elizabethan London.

Mary and Cat are thrust together when they were very young. Distant relations, they become as close as sisters. Loving and fighting in equal measure. But they are not and never can be equals. One is the orphaned daughter of a penniless country gentleman, the other titled and privileged. 

But their lives are entwined, even as their fates diverge on different paths. 

Cat has led a privileged life, but following the death of her father, she becomes little more than a pawn as her brother effectively sells her off to the highest bidder. It isn’t long before her husband’s depravity and games lead Cat to make a decision that will change both of their lives forever. A chance meeting in the summer rain brings the two women back together throws Mary’s life into turmoil as Cat’s presence threatens everything she has spent the past 16 years building.

The narrative alternates between the two women, each telling the story from their own point of view. With their fortunes reversed, their former friendship turns to rivalry and they are forced to hide their true pasts. 

There are plenty of twists and turns as the story unfolds. I enjoyed the story, the characters and the pace. I also found the interaction between the two protagonists fascinating. The way each of the interpreted the events of their past acts as a reminder that not everything is as black and white as it seems. Truth is sometimes malleable and often biased. 

Pamela Hartshorne uses all her experience as a historian to ensure consistency and authenticity. It is a great story and an enjoyable read. 

How To Be Dead (Books 1-3)

How To Be Deadby Dave Turner

It is true that I have a strange sense of humour and there are certain types of books that simply call out to me. From the strange imaginings of Terry Pratchett and Tom Sharpe to the gentle humour of Leslie Thomas or Pauline McLynn, they offer an escape from reality. Humour is subjective and just because a book makes me chuckle merrily to myself doesn’t mean it will do the same for someone else. I am a fan of romantic comedies in any form, be it book, film or theatre, but my favourite release has to be the more zany worlds envisaged by the likes of Dave Turner. A world where reality comes face-to-face with the best of human imagination. 

Dave Turner’s “How To Be Dead” is not the first to give the likes of Death human form and a personality, and I am sure it won’t be the last. And whilst it has an uncanny resemblance to at least one Terry Pratchett adventure, it is extremely funny in its own right. 

The first character we meet is Death himself. Unlike most of his other appearances in literature, Turner’s Death is very human in his frailties and his obsessions. His inability to pronounce Beelzebub, his craving for biscuits and his need for reassurance make him a vulnerable and likeable character. And throughout the three books here we will meet his colleagues, War, Famine and Conquest. And Beelzebub of course. 

The story really begins when young Dave Marwood, stuck in a dead-end job and drifting aimlessly through life, becomes a hero. Saving the life of the woman he loves (even if she isn’t aware of it at the time) changes everything. But then, coming face-to-face with Death will do that every time. Following his near-death experience, Dave discovers he has gifts he never knew he had. He is also now living in a world he never knew existed. And for the first time in his life, he has a purpose. He also has a new relationship with the girl of his dreams, so what could possibly go wrong?

The three individual books of this trilogy focus on different strands of the overall story, but at the heart of each of them is Dave’s relationship with Melanie. It was his unrequited love for her that led to his near-death encounter with his new boss. And it is his passions that drive him to beat the odds when faced with a hastily assembled and not very successful attempt at a budget Appocolyps.  

There are some very original elements to this very funny book. I particularly enjoyed the back story to the Four Horsemen of the Apppocolyps. Their relationship was believable, considering they had been working together for millennia. 

But what makes the book such a joy to read is the relentless humour. From moments of slapstick gold to the most subtle of turns of phrase, every page offers something to laugh about. I love the kind of subtle humour that was so well perfected by Tom Sharpe, and reflected here in what I found to be a real page-turner. 

As I said at the beginning of this review, humour is subjective. If you are one of those that simply don’t get the Discworld or have never laughed at Monty Python, then give this one a miss. If, however, you can believe there is a world where Death is a Billy Joel fan with an obsession for bourbons, then this is defiantly for you.

 

Neutron Star

Neutron Starby Larry Niven

This is my third time reading this collection of short stories from the award-winning Larry Niven. I am more used to reading his collaborations with Jerry Pournelle, but was given this book as a Christmas gift in the late 1970s and loved the concept. Each of the books 8 stories are set in Niven’s “Known Space“, four of then featuring the same principal character, Beowulf Shaffer, a pilot looking for work wherever he can find it.

Although all the stories here are worthy and interesting, it is the, without doubt, the title story itself (Neutron Star) and “At The Core” that makes this collection such a delight.

The first four also feature the enigmatic and ancient race known as the Puppeteers (featured ion the cover of this edition). 

The stories themselves were all first published in 1966 and 1967. At the time that this collection was first published in 1978 the concepts and featured technology were still valid, but time has overtaken Noven’s visions of the future. That does not however distract from what are imaginative and compelling stories. I am not by a rule a fan of short stories, but this is one of those collections that kept me intrigued to the end of the final story. Maybe this is due to the links between them all. 

Larry Niven’s work has always been rooted in the big science and theoretical concepts and much of the science in these stories is as fresh and intriguing as it was when I first read them.

Neutron Star is an interesting and intriguing collection. There is pure science, thriller and even a smattering of crime. As good a selection as you will find anywhere.

A Question of Us

A Question of Usby Mary Jane Baker

It’s the opening match of the Denworth Quiz League. Enter Clarice Midwinter, know to all as Clar, captain of the Mighty Morphin Flower Arrangers. More than just a quiz team, the Flower Arrangers have been friends since their school days and it sometimes feels that they are the only thing keeping Clarice sane.

Beside her for every match is Simon. Clar and Simon have been best friends since they were at nursery together but now, at 26, something is changing. Simon’s attempts to whisk Clar off on a date are not new, but they have become more intense and frequent. It seems that their relationship is on the brink of change and either way it goes, things will never be the same again.

As the team embark on the 14th season, Simon challenges Clar to go on a date with him if they can win the league this year. Although their chances seem fairly remote, the fact that he is prepared to make such a bold move sets warning bells off in Clar’s head. Now it is all too real. She can no longer shrug off his intentions, nor can she ignore Simon’s determination to win the league and the bet – not necessarily in that order.

Clarise and Simon are both forced to face their true feelings for each other and things will inevitably go wrong before Clarise comes to terms with the truth behind the decisions she has made throughout her life.

A Question of Us is a very funny and well-observed romantic comedy that ticks all the boxes as far as I am concerned. 

I loved the characters and their friendly banter. They understand each other in a way only life-ling friends can. There are no secrets and nothing is taboo. 

The only strange thing about reading this book, and it is probably more to do with me than Mary Jane Baker is that as I read the dialogue, I heard Welsh accends and not the Yorkshire twang I should have. I think it is because of the relaxed way in which the characters interact with each other. 

This is the second Mary Jane Baker book I have read and it was even better than the first (Bicycle Made For Two). I would heartily recommend this to anyone who is looking for a very funny escape from the realities of everyday life.  

 

Daughters of the Lake

Daughters of the Lakeby Wendy Webb

Daughters of the Lake is, like all Wendy Webb’s books, set on the shores of Lake Superior. And once again she has produced a book that kept me enthralled from the first sentence to the last. It seems that this woman can do no wrong.

The story itself spans a hundred years, unravelling a bond between two very different women. 

When Kate Granger returns to her home town following the break up of her marriage, she is already experiencing strangely clear and very disturbing dreams. But when a body is discovered on the shore close to her parent’s house, the dreams become a reality. 

Kate soon finds herself a suspect in a murder case. To clear her head she visits her cousin at the old family home in Wharton. But rather than provide comfort, the house itself, as well as the mysterious woman in her dreams, seem to be using Kate to tell their own stories.

With some interesting twists and a lot of supernatural intervention, Kate begins to unravel the mystery, but not before some sinister interventions and a discovery that will surprise her whole family.

One again Wendy Webb has woven a chilling tale of death, deceipt, love and fear. I enjoy the little twists and turns of the plot and the wonderful characters she creates. Her love of the Great Lakes is clear as is her mastery of Gothic Horror. 

A really great read from an author who it seems can do no wrong. Bring on the next one…

Murder at the University (DI Hillary Greene, #2)

Murder at the Universityby Faith Martin

DI Hillary Greene is back for her second outing, clearing up the streets of Oxford. And a damn fine job she is doing of it. 

This time we find DI Green still suffering from the aftermath of the investigation into her deceased husband’s criminal activities. But she is well respected within the station and determined to remove any stain on her reputation.

A pretty French student has been found dead in her room at an exclusive Oxford College. As DI Greene arrives it appears to be a simple case of an accidental drug overdose. But as the investigation begins, Hillary’s inscrutable instinct tells her that there is more to the case than first thought.

As the evidence comes in, Hillary and her team realise they are dealing with a clever but brutal murder. She is relentless in her search for the truth and slowly begins to uncover a web os=f secrets hidden beneath the college’s veneer of respectability. In the end, it is a chance remark by a colleague that opens the case up and ultimately reveals the truth behind the cruel murder of a promising young girl.

Murder at the University has everything you would expect, and want, from a detective story. There are plenty of plot twists and clues, but also some great characters, particularly Di Hillary Greene herself. What you won’t find here are in-depth discussions about police procedure or rambling descriptions of people and places. The narrative is fast-paced and focused. Whilst we discover a lot about the characters as the story progresses, it is no more than necessary to drive the plot and set the scene for future books.

Faith Martin has a simple but direct way of writing. The plot has plenty of twists and turns and her characters are diverse and believable. Their relationships are as much a part of the story as the investigation itself. 

I for one am pleased to have been introduced to the world of Hillary Greene and am looking forward to joining her on more adventures in the future. 

 

 

Rendezvous With Rama (Rama #1)

Rendezvous With Ramaby Arthur C Clarke

Arthur C Clarks is one of the most prolific and well respected Science Fiction writers of his generation. One of the great things about Clarke is that his works stand up even now. First published in 1974, Rendezvous With Rama has become a classic and with good reason. 

I first read this book when I was in school in the mid-1970s. It was the first full-length Science Fiction novel I had read and I was awed by the grandeur of the story and the science it portrayed. I have reread the book several times since and still find the story, characters and the strange alien world of Rama as captivating as the first time.

Rama is the name given to the enigmatic object scientists discover passing through the solar system. Its trajectory takes it past Venus and Mercury towards the Sun. There is only one ship capable of rendezvousing with the craft, Endeavour. Commander Norton and his crew find themselves the centre of political and media attention as they begin their adventure aboard the alien craft.

What they discover raises more questions than answers, as you might expect. How could we possibly understand the technology of a race capable of building a craft capable of spanning the vastness of interstellar space?

The narrative switches between the science of the expedition on Rama and the political intrigue and plotting back on Earth. 

As you would expect from Arthur C Clarke, the science is real and believable, combined with great storytelling. Re-reading the book has reminded me just how good a writer Clarke is. 

Originally a stand-alone story Clarke later went on to write a further 3 Rama novels. He had not intended to, but pressure from fans and his publishers soon won out.

Rendezvous With Rama is a SciFi classic for good reason. It remains one of my favourite books and one I am sure I will read again. 

 

 

Paper

Paper

“Paper” by John McCabe

by John McCabe

Paper was not my first McCabe book, which is just as well. At least I know he can do much better.

The issue I had with this particular book is that it seems to go nowhere and takes its time getting there. I was over halfway through before even a semblance of a plot began to emerge. Even then it was a bit think on the ground. You can get away with a lack of plot if the characters and narrative can make up for it. But in this case, they don’t.

The story centres around scientist Dr Darren White and his dream of making an earth-shattering discovery. As the book progresses Dr White begins to make some progress but at the expense of his career and relationships. To be honest, I found I didn’t really care if he succeeded or not. McCabe failed to make his lead character even remotely likeable.

I found the book difficult to finish and was relieved when it was.

I can’t recommend this particular book, but I know from having previously read “Big Spender” I know that McCabe can be funny and can be an excellent storyteller. I won’t let this stop me reading more.

Sphere

Sphereby Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton is one of the most respected writers in his field. Many of his books have become essential reading and a large number have made it to the silver screen. His work is always imaginative and pushes real science to the limited. Sphere is just such a book. 

The story is set deep below the South Pacific where a huge vessel has been discovered resting on the ocean floor. A team of specialists is hastily assembled and shipped out in great secrecy. Joining a naval crew the scientists are faced with attempting to solve a perplexing riddle whilst confined in the hostile environment a thousand feel below the ocean surface. 

What the crew find inside the vessel reveals more mysteries than they had bargained for. Things begin to take a turn for the worse when a storm forces the surface support ships away, leaving the scientists and their navy crew very much isolated. This is quickly followed by a series of events that leave most of them dead and the survivors fighting for their lives against an unknown and unseen adversary.

Whilst I enjoyed the book, particularly the way it looks at the frailty of the human psyche, it did not hold my attention as much as I had expected.

Like Crichton’s other works, Sphere deals with cutting edge science pitted against human frailties. It has an interesting plot and intriguing characters but it does not have the same vital spark that made the likes of The Andromeda Strain and Congo such compelling reads.

 

The Honey Farm On The Hill

The Honey Farm On The Hillby Jo Thomas

It is 18 years since fiery red-head Nell fell in love on and with the mountains of Crete. Now, with her daughter working in London and her job on hold due to a fire, Nell decides it is time to return. Can she find and rekindle her teenage romance? Will Stelios even still be there and if he is, will he want to see her, let alone still love her?

From the moment she arrives on the island it is clear that a lot has changed over the intervening years. She has signed up as a volunteer to help on a honey farm situated in the mountains. She immediately throws herself into helping restore the farm to its former glory.

It soon becomes clear that beneath the idyllic setting there is something vaguely sinister going on. And what about the mysterious and enigmatic neighbour Georgios? What is his role in the goings-on up in the mountains?

Nell soon learns not only the truth behind these things but also about what really happened when she fled the island all those years ago.

The Honey Farm On The Hill is a perfect holiday read. It has the inevitable romance mixed with a little mystery and adventure, something that Jo Thomas always manages to weave into her books. Her passion for food is apparent as she tells us all about Greek herbs and honey.

If I have one criticism it would be the all too predictable ending. I felt that the story and it’sm characters deserved something a little less formulaic. I would have prefered a less clinical and Austenesque, but that is just personal preference. It is a light, easy read that is guaranteed to entertain.