Last Bus to Woodstock – Colin Dexter

Last Bus to Woodstock (Inspector Morse, #1)Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book in Oxford whilst visiting on holiday. After taking in the Morse sights (even seeing Morse’s MkI Jag used in Endeavour ready for filming), I decided it was finally time to read the books.

This is a great introduction to Morse. The character is clear as crystal and you can see the relationship between Morse and Lewis start developing. Not quite the friendship that is there in the series but it’s coming along nicely.

The mystery was intriguing and as a book it was very difficult to put down. I sat down for a quick read and before I knew it – forty pages had passed!

I know some people have complained about how the women are portrayed in the book but it was written in 1975 – what would you have authors do? Rewrite their works to keep up with an ever-changing modern audience? Be realistic people.

Overall, a very entertaining book that was engaging and very much a ‘page-turner’.

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The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer

The Shock of the FallThe Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I admit it: I bought this book because I liked the front cover. It happens. Publishers still rely on this to work. Some of the best books I have ever read I bought because they looked nice. Needless to say, with so much success, why should I ever change my book buying strategy?

That being said, this book is brilliant. It follows the first person narrative of Matthew Homes, a 19 year-old schizophrenic who hears the voice of his dead brother, Simon. The blurb on the back really gives nothing away but it does make you want to start reading.

It’s very easy to read in the language used but because of the mental illness suffered by Matthew, it does wander around quite convincingly. It takes you a couple of seconds to realise where in the story you are and this might put some people off. I thought it was excellent because of the very realistic way the ideas tumbled out of Matthew’s head.

It’s a story of sadness, guilt and life. It did make me cry because this is a story of trying to move on. Poignant, witty and well written, this is great book that will live with you for a long time.

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The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

The FarmThe Farm by Tom Rob Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a fan of Child 44 and the rest of the Demidov trilogy, I had to have this book as soon as it came out last week. Tom Rob Smith is quite simply one of my favourite authors.

This is a complete departure from Communist Russia. Set partly in London but mainly in very rural Sweden, The Farm is a story of trust. How can you choose between trusting your father or trusting your mother? Daniel has to choose when his mother shows up in London asking him to believe her when his father has just rung to say she’s gone mad and been locked in an Asylum. What comes next has you questioning the sanity of the people involved and it really leaves you guessing.

As will all Tom Rob Smith’s novels, this is a book that is very easy to read and the pace is extraordinary. He has a way of writing that pulls you through at such speed that it requires immense willpower to put the book down and leave some until later. You have to get to the end to know what happens. It reveals the story fragments at a time, a delicious unveiling of the twists and turns that lead you to a wonderful conclusion.

A great book.

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One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore

One Night in WinterOne Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love a thriller set in communist Russia. Denunciations, threat of death or being sent to the Gulags. The tension and horror of the situation makes for excellent, dramatic novels. This is a superb example of a book set in this situation.

The novel follows the events that follow a strange game that several students play. All but one of these children belong to the people at the top of the government and they all attend the best school in Moscow – School 801. They are members of the Fatal Romantics Club who re-enact famous scenes from Pushkin’s Onegin. It’s whilst they are playing this ‘game’ that events spiral out of control. Before you know it, all the children’s lives are at stake as they are taken to the Lubianka for questioning.

Montefiore handles the development of all the characters well and really does an excellent job of bringing them to life. The whole situation is almost farcical but very true as to what it was like in Russia at the time. It is loosely based on a real investigation that took place.

Great book – looking forward to reading some more novels by this author.

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The Grim by Eleanor Piper

The GrimThe Grim by Eleanor Piper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Grim is a gripping, fast paced horror novel set in the wonderful Dartmoor National Park. It follows a small group of specially trained people as they attempt to hunt down the mysterious animal that has been killing people on the moors. With a atmospheric opening scene to introduce the story, it leads you right into the world of The Grim.

Not for the faint-hearted, this book is one you just can’t put down. At 110 pages, it’s easy enough to pick up and read right through the end as I did. Once started, you simply have to know what happens next!

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The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters

The True and Splendid History of The Harristown SistersThe True and Splendid History of The Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was a Michelle Lovric fan from the moment I started reading ‘The Book of Human Skin’. Amazing book that lives with me still – years after I first read it! So when I saw this book, I had to read it.

Was I disappointed? Not at all. The Swiney Godivas are quite simply wonderful.

Michelle Lovric really does do characters well. Seven sisters, all completely different in personality, simply jump off the page. You love Manticory, despise Darcy, feel strangely in the middle regards Berenice and Enda. Pertilly, Oona and Ida all have their roles to play and have very different if slightly strange mannerisms. You care what happens to them as they traverse this enforced world of show business.

The setting is incredibly vivid as it was in The Book of Human Skin. You can see the slow-crows of Harristown, hear the Grand Canal lapping at the buildings in Venice.

Quite simply, I loved this book. So much so, that today I was disappointed when I realised I didn’t have any more to read.

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Peaches for Monsieur le Curé by Joanne Harris

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé (Chocolat, #3)Peaches for Monsieur le Curé by Joanne Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great sequel to Lollipop Shoes. It follows Vianne as she returns to Lansquenet after receiving a letter from beyond the grave. Filled with the familiar characters from Chocolat such as Joesphine, Reynaud and Luc Clairmont, Harris also introduces a wealth of new characters with the settling of Moroccan Muslims in the small town.

As always, Harris manages to capture the sound, smell and atmosphere so that when you open the book all senses are alert as you read the wonderful descriptions. Of course, there is the dark and mysterious side of the book with the appearance of Karim and Ines Bencharki. Vianne finds more than she bargained for on her return and this threatens to pull apart the life she has created in Paris.

An excellent read and a wonderful continuation. I have loved reading about Vianne since Chocolat, and this book did not disappoint. The only bad thing is when it’s all over.

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To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield

To Serve Them All My DaysTo Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful story of how a man suffering from shell shock finds himself at a private school in Devon on the advice of his psychiatric doctor. It follows David Powlett-Jones through from the Great War to the Second World War. It accounts for his struggles with some of the boys (ones who later become great friends and call him ‘Pow-Wow’), to his rise of power through the school to the tragedies that befall his private life.

A very well written account that pulls you through and leaves you at the end hoping that the boys make it through the Second World War safely but knowing that many wouldn’t have done. A heart-warming tale of determination and the development of character after suffering in the Trenches of 1917.

I read this because of the TV series which aired in England in the ’80s I think. A very good adaptation but the book is different enough to make it not just reading a book of the series. I would definitely recommend this book.

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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

Who could resist such an opening line? I admit, I chose to read this book because it had a nice cover. The back of the paperback edition gives little away but the opening line mentioned above. So, I picked it up and read it. Needless to say, I could barely put it down.

The story is about two magicians who are pitted against each other in a duel but it is no ordinary duel. They have to outdo each other with creating exhibits for Le Cirque des Rêves until a winner is decided. But alongside this runs a romance that is threatened when the competition starts to reach its stunning end.

The imagery in this story is wonderful and atmospheric. You can almost hear and smell the circus, close your eyes and the exhibits are real. The characters are interesting and likeable, drawing you into a world that is impossible but you keep hoping otherwise. The author creates a world that reappears as soon as you open the book and pulls you through to the end.

When I finished the book, I turned to the front and started again.

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Charles Dickens: a Life by Claire Tomlin

Charles Dickens: A LifeCharles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t really know much about Charles Dickens before I read this book. I’ve read a number of his novels but never appreciated them in the context of his experiences and the events occurring in his life at the time of writing. So I decided to find out more.

Claire Tomlin has written quite a few biographies of famous authors and this book was released for the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth. Tomlin manages to weave a detailed account of his life with some interesting anecdotes from Dickens’ own letters to family and friends. In and amongst, she also critiques the novels and puts them into the context of his rather hectic life.

I found the book to be easy to read and even though it was full of detail, it never stopped being readable and you don’t feel bombarded with information that is uninteresting or irrelevant. It certainly made me appreciate his novels as a snapshot of London life but also how the author was feeling at his time of writing. It puts into place why his books became more disillusioned and showed a darker edge to Dickens.

Tomlin doesn’t pull any punches with critiquing his novels – many of which she is quite scathing about and has evidence to suggest that even Dickens’ friends also felt the same. She does such a good job of portraying Dickens that you feel disappointed at him at times but also his despair when he watches as family and friends start to disappear.

A very enjoyable read and I certainly know a lot more about this great author than I did before.

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