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Some books grab your attention straightaway, while others take time to release their impact on the reader. This is one of the latter and probably will appeal mainly to dedicated review readers rather than the casual passer by. I would ask for five minutes of your time though, if only to say 'consider this'
I came across the book while looking for something a little different to my normal reading and something to match my mood that currently is veering to the side of a deeper read than normal. This looked a little intense by the cover and the synopsis does suggest a melancholy subject but these often reveal a worthwhile read and so I brought it back from the library and read it overnight.
The author, Salley Vickers, is new to me but her previous books have some terrific write-ups. I also liked the way the author says she is ordinary when her previous career path took the path of artist's model, teacher, a lecturer in literature and a psychotherapist turned writer, with three previous books to this one, all well received and recommended by the serious critics. In fact I do feel more than a little trepidation trying to do justice to the book, but I'm sure the author would understand.
Dr David McBride is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst with a small private practice and a larger round at two hospitals. When a failed suicide, Elizabeth Cruikshank, is admitted to his Brighton clinic he is unsure what to make of her. She appears to be middle-class yet is not a paying client. Her attempt was classed as a serious one, rather than a cry for help and but for a neighbor she may well have succeeded. David finds her enigmatic and takes his time with their talking sessions, her choice of therapy rather than by taking medication. Mysteriously reticent she poses a problem as all attempts at drawing her out are met with silence. Then a passing remark on a painting animates Elizabeth to talk about art and they both have an interest in the Italian artist Caravaggio and in particular a certain painting.
As her story unfold over a period of time David finds he is starting to question his own problems, in particular his sterile marriage and his own background of some depression. While he starts to make strides in helping Elizabeth, he makes some choices on another patient that proves a wrong one, leading him to consider just how much his own life and choices appear to have changed over time. In one long day and evening spent in deep conversation with Elizabeth, she opens up fully and David is faced with a dilemma, just how much he has come to like and respect his client.
Talking as Therapy.
Suicide and depression are huge vital themes to make a book out of and the author is obviously well qualified to make that work. So it's no surprise that a lot of the book is about one person's life story, filtered through the strain of depression. I would hesitate to say I know much about the themes, although I do suffer from clinical depression. By getting his patient to 'talk' through her reasons for her suicide attempt the story is surprisingly enjoyable and certainly not all about misery. Elizabeth may have made some wrong choices but she did have a love that most people would never know in a lifetime so it's no wonder she considered death as a solution to life. The story never becomes to heavy or detailed so the reader can set aside any concerns about that.
What does emerge is a rather charming but deeply moving story about the choices we make and how it's better to sometimes live spontaneously rather than live in perpetual mourning. The passages about art and the paintings of the artist Caravaggio may not appeal to all readers but you don't need to know a great deal about the subject to understand the importance it brings to the book. As we learn that some of the story is set in Rome, so the talk moves from the depths of despair to a slightly intellectual debate about the artist and his own way of living. The artist Keats is also mentioned and several lines of a T.S.Eliot poem give rise to discussions with the author's title coming directly from the one line of a poem. I mention this as I love art and literature myself and this does add to the book's enhancement.
Patient and Therapist.
These are the main characters in the book and sometimes it seems that one blends into the other. Elizabeth is a married woman with children at the time she is talking about which is in retrospect to the suicide attempt. David is also married without children and not happily. Whether it is the outcome of the sessions that disturb the doctor's equilibrium is debatable, but it certainly has an impact on several parts of his life.
As characters they both have things in common and I don't think the book would work so well without that commonality. I thought Elizabeth to be a rather clever but staid woman and thought I would have acted differently to her. But that is in hindsight and how does anyone choose a course of action without knowing the outcome? I did find her hard to understand at times, especially when her suicide attempt was made after the story she tells has moved on. Did she think constantly about it or was the attempt made as life had nothing left to offer?
David would appear to have everything he needs apart from children. There is a reason for that choice but it's a plot spoiler and although you can find the reason in the first chapter, it seems a shame to give it away. I liked David's character and the way he interacts with all his patients, not just Elizabeth. If the story had been entirely about one person then it would be boring. Instead there are plenty of other characters, colleagues of David and Gus, in particular, makes you wonder if doctors are any different to us at all.
Personally I thought the book a triumph of learning how to live rather than giving in, but I do have some knowledge of depression. I think many of us do at times, but depression as a way of life is exhausting. I liked what the author brought to the book and found it hard to ignore her section at the end of the story from slipping into my review. I did manage it since it would seem wrong to allow some other's thoughts to decide mine. I was interested in her background and why she chose to write the book, but that is as far as I took it.
Whether it will appeal to other readers is something I can only guess at. It's not an easy book to review or sell to others unless it's a captive audience. I know the people who read my reviews are all very different but on the whole are extremely supportive, yet I do go from one end of the spectrum to another in my reading. I would say this is probably a thinking person's book and if you are interested in the world of therapy where the therapist is very human then this is something you'd like. At 271 pages in paperback it isn't a long read, but is a thoughtful read. I would definitely read another book by the same author, but in all fairness for the purpose of enjoyment can only give this four stars. I would love to be proved different.
My copy is a library one and was published in 2007. This can be bought on Amazon for £2.19
Thanks for reading my review and this may appear on other sites.
The University of East Anglia has a world class Creative Writing Programme that has created many of today's finest authors. Born in Bolton in 1965, Janette Jenkins studied Literature and Philosophy at degree level before getting her MA in creative writing. Her previous novels and short stories have earned her the title of one of the best storytellers at work today. But does her latest book live up to her high standards?
London 1899, a city teeming with businesses, beggars, high and low society and a mixture of all sorts of characters. As the century is about to turn, so there is much to hope for among the poorer of London's refugees, and for one family it needs a miracle.
Ivy Stretch has left her previous lodgings in a hurry and now her and her two girls are trying to get a room in the establishment of a Doctor Swift with his wife and two maids of all work. The place is dirty, shabby and running with water, but it's a haven to the family and to Jane in particular who at sixteen is bent over with diseased bones, giving her the name of cripple. For a short while all is going well enough until Ivy's husband, a wastrel and drunkard manages to find them. Fearful that he'll get them into trouble the family moves on but leave Jane behind to cope by herself. It might sound heartless but it happened a lot and for Jane she doesn't expect much from life anyway, though she will miss her family.
Jane's willing to do anything for her food and lodgings, so when Mrs Swift asks if she is clean and willing to aid her husband, she agrees straight away. Maybe another girl would have questioned the Doctor's business, but Jane is used to her deformity and soon learns to keep her mouth shut about the doctor's patients, who are mainly actresses living in various boarding houses across town. They have problems of a 'female nature' with 'obstructions' that require removal. The doctor prescribes a purgative and Jane helps with the mopping up.
When this strange pair becomes acquainted with a music hall star, Johnny Treble and his many women, trouble is about to fall on them all. The police become involved and suddenly the doctor is required to present his certificates of qualifications. For Jane the future is even more terrifying as she cannot produce more than her good name and with a cripple that's not going to keep her out of prison. This could end very badly for all concerned.
***Questions of Morality***
The author brings to life a London of mixed morals, where women can find help as long as they can pay and stay under the police radar. For the times the doctor's profession wasn't that uncommon, shocking though it may seem. That a young, crippled girl aided him wouldn't be out of place either, it would have been that or begging for Jane with the oldest of all professions shut to her. But Jane has a sense of right and wrong despite the nature of her work and she is a favorite among the chorus girls who like her gentle hands and caring nature.
The book teems with life, the tawdry, tantalizing and the brutal. With one rule for people with a family name to uphold against the common women who need to get rid of their 'burdens', this isn't a book to be read lightly, though it doesn't set out to shock or offend the reader. Things like this happened and but for a jealous woman it might have gone on. The ending is a mixture of sadness and a strange sense of rightness, though I did find it went against all I expected.
The character of Jane is a rare one and put me in mind of the young girl in Tracey Chevalier's story of a fossil collector. She's an innocent in some ways but knows the nature of her work is wrong. Still, as long as the need is there and the woman not too far gone, she does as she's told. As she stumbles along behind the 'Doctor' she makes all sorts of friends from the world of theatre houses to the boy who carries advertising boards for a drunken priest. I felt like she became the embodiment of all the hypocrisy of the times and the people who were two-faced.
Though there are several other characters, it's Jane who makes the book so readable and the sorry plight of the innocent drawn into anything to get by. There are some lovely times when the family is together and reasonably happy. A touch of the Dickens's Magic with Christmas feasts and having a rare day of enjoyment to set against a lifetime of bleakness. The reader learns from the prologue that the doctor and his fat wife were once involved in the theatre in a much different way. It adds piquancy to the tale especially when the wife becomes so fat she can't even run away!
Though the story is unusual, the book is mainly about the characters and does a very good job of producing something that captures the reader's interest straight away. The period setting is faultless and I loved the way that even the beggars were given personalities rather than a group setting. I thought the descriptions of the times must be accurate and the London of a new century a reminder that some things may appear to change, but at heart stays the same.
I suppose it could be called a tale of morals, but I thought the actual 'deeds' were handled in a very sensitive way. I can't say agreed with what was happening, but it's the kind of book that you don't have to take sides against. It's a story of how people managed at a time when getting by was the only way to live. It doesn't ask large questions, but there is a question of morality in its pages. It's also very funny at times and I kept thinking of the actress Jane Horrocks as I read the title. If you can put aside the parts that might be objectionable to some then this is a very good read and a study in working class families. Definitely one to watch, I recommend both the book and the author.
This was another library find and at 281 pages is a quick read. It's a newish book, recently published, so a rare find for me.
Thanks for reading my review and be aware that this may appear on other sites.
'The waiting room stands on a crumbling railway platform at the edge of a retired rock stars vast estate.' What a wonderfully enticing sentence to draw a reader in to a book about ghosts? The room in question has all the hallmarks of a spooky place for haunting to take place and for retired rock star Martin Stride, it poses a real threat to his wife and children, eleven-year-old Peter and eight-year-old Millie. Stride bought the parcel of land the waiting room stands on as part of his retirement from public life. He values his privacy and his family are all to him. Recently though there has been some strange happenings that can't be reasonably explained.
Worried and concerned for his family Stride calls in Julian Creed, who, on the face of things wouldn't be a first choice for a man wanting privacy as Creed is a familiar face on TV, the best-known ghost hunter in the business with a reputation for getting things done. Only his production team and his brilliant researcher Elena know that he is a fake, a man who doesn't believe in the supernatural. As Monica, Stride's wife explains to Creed, they would rather him than a priest who would carry out an exorcism. On the surface this appears to be a simple task for Creed but he doesn't factor in his growing respect for Stride and his own misgivings after looking around the place.
It's a lovely old house set in acres of countryside in Kent and the weather coming up to autumn couldn't be better. Setting Elena the task of researching the background to the estate and the long-unused railway, Creed spends one night in the waiting room, a night that forces him to re-evaluate all his old beliefs and confront his fears head-on. The haunting is very real and the place is forbidding, can Creed put aside his tricks and do something to remove the threat to them all? This is the premise of the book, a tale of such horror it's difficult to sum it up in such a short opening. But its well worth holding back to try and convince readers its one of the most unusual books I've read in a long time.
***Setting the Scene. ***
This is the second book I've read by this author but I hadn't realized it when I first picked up the book in my local library. The book I read previously had a totally different concept and although it was about a place, the menace in the other book was more remote than this one. The jacket cover on this shows the picture of a soldier standing outside a door as if about to enter. The book starts with a poem that appears to be about the First World War by the poet Wilfred Owen. It then goes straight into the first meeting between Stride and Creed so we are involved from the outset with each discovery that's made. Personally I find this very creepy and help me to get in the correct frame of mind.
Naturally both the book cover and the poem suggest the haunting is to do with the war. So it's not a spoiler to say that there is a link with the war and the end of the railway line. But why has things started to escalate when the Creeds have lived there for some time? The author takes the reader through the possibilities as they occur and this has the effect of making you very edgy if reading at night. I don't scare easily and I read a lot of thrillers, horror and some fantasy so know the difference between reality and being spooked by night terrors. Living on my own I sometimes feel uneasy when shutting curtains, locking up for the night. There's also the fear of waking out of a dream and being unaware of actually awaking which is something common to some people. The author manages to tap into that type of unease and instead of monsters he draws out a theme of the past resonating into the present.
Cottam is excellent at portraying a family used to the limelight but now wishing for peace and quiet. I'm not sure why he decided to use a middle-aged pop star as a family man but it does work surprisingly well. I suspect the idea is to throw the character of Creed off the scent and maybe point the finger of doubt on the character with pop stars often victims of drug 'flash-backs.' If so it soon becomes clear that Martin Stride will do anything for his children and when a trip to the Isle of Wight ends in further fear for the children the pace picks up and the book turns very dark.
I liked the character of Creed, despite a slight similarity to James Herbert's unwilling ghost-hunter I felt he was very different and had few of the vices inherent in Herbert's flawed heroes. If anything it's a tribute to Herbert's characters. Creed finds himself terrified by a few nights spent in the Waiting room and soon the very thought of the evil lurking there is spreading to the other characters.
Elena comes across as a stable and reliable person, a woman whose work is exemplary but still finds time for her boss. There is a hint of romance but whether the characters are compatible remains to be seen.
These three characters have a very special purpose apart from telling the story. They are all psychic and something has brought them together at the right time though maybe the wrong place. Without introducing spoilers I cannot comment on the adversaries they face, except to say that nothing in the story is straightforward and it takes a lot of research on the part of all three to uncover a story of such magnitude it could change the very fabric of the world if not halted.
***Words and Meanings***
The use of a war poem and certain others like 'The Waiting Room' are bound to set the mind to work imagining all sorts of things. The imagery in the author's words is basic, but build up the edgy claustrophobia throughout the book. This is a very scary book with concepts that could be considered possible rather than the outright horror of blood and gore. As the story crosses time and builds up the tension, so the reader becomes immersed in the different time periods and the horrors waiting patiently behind the doors of the Waiting room.
I became completely engrossed in this book straight away and didn't find my attention wandering, so had to carry on reading to finish it in a day. As I read a lot that's high praise from me. I also find it hard to review a book I don't enjoy which makes it difficult to set a scale of points system, which works for me.
I could find a book to be the best in a certain category or a particularly good example of a genre. Then I might give it five stars followed by another review of a book that leaves me speechless because it's so good. That doesn't mean I can't rate a book as excellent if it will please a reader such as myself.
So The Waiting Room gets the full five stars because it's highly readable, has a good plot and gave me a good reason to be scared. Read it if you dare!
Thanks for reading.
This review may appear on other sites. ©Lfuller2012.
I gain a great deal of pleasure from reading and frequently get through three to four books a week. Poor health, a need to rest and yet keep my mind active is another reason to read and finding things that interest me can be time-consuming. So when I came across the work of F.G.Cottam I knew I was on to another winner. As a writer he's got a solid background in men's magazines and has turned his talents to the genre of horror, bringing something very special to the subject- an open mind, a keen sense of what makes people afraid and like all good horror writers he tells a great story. Dark Echo is the second of three books I've read and each one is a winner.
Dark Echo is an unlucky boat, some might say it's a cursed boat but to self-made man Magnus Stanning, it's the ideal way to celebrate his imminent retirement from the business of making money. It's also a way to bond with his son Martin, who work as a freelance programmer and a game that made him enough money to live comfortably enables him to take time out and sail the old schooner on a dream trip from England to it's original home in America.
Naturally Martin has some reservations. The boat is very old, having been built in the 1916's and since then has suffered plenty of misuse and is presently in dry dock awaiting a complete overhaul. But it's not the age but the first owner of the boat that spooks everyone except Magnus, for the Dark Echo was built for a legend of a man, a cruel American soldier with a past that could come straight from the Devil. Even looking at his picture spooks both Martin and his girlfriend, Suzanne, who decides to look into the history of the man and his crew after she returns from a trip to Dublin to write about the great Irish Patriot, Michael Collins.
Meanwhile Martin has already discovered some of the stories surrounding Harry Spalding, an American playboy type who sparred with Ernest Hemingway, won terrible victories in the war and made a name for himself before his unlikely suicide in 1927. As head of the infamous Jericho Crew grown men still shudder at the mere mention of his name, so what will it be like to sail in his boat? That's if the Boat can even be rebuilt since Frank Hadley's boatyard is under a spell of misfortune that leads to bloody accidents and death.
However, where there's a will there's a way and the boat does have beautiful lines!
Building On A Background.
A book can rise or fall on the work that goes into making a convincing background and Cottam is excellent at every task he undertakes. His research is flawless and where there's a legend he uses it to great effect. So far all his books have a flavor of war at the start but it's never the main story, rather the evil starts with a war and either changes a character or uncovers the evil in the man. In this book he gives us a Hero as well as a devil, for Harry Spalding is no hero, no matter what his crew achieved in the trenches of France. Even his own men were terrified of him.
He moved in circles of wealthy playboys and the great heroes that made names for themselves in those years. So it's easy enough to believe that there could have been such a character as Harry Spalding. The author has to have a strong man to pitch against Spalding and with both Magnus and his son Martin; he has two, although the book concentrates mostly on Martin. In parts of the book when Martin is following Suzanne's research about Michael Collins, he dreams that Collins is fighting Spalding and losing. This is an Irish hero, who was afraid of no one, but Martin is transferring real fears into his dreams, or so it would seem. This clever background writing adds the fear bit by bit so at no point does the reader notice quite how terrifying the atmosphere has built up. It's the sort of horror that niggles into the conscious mind like a dripping tap.
Without spoiling the plot it's difficult to say how the horror builds to unbearable heights and a finish that's nail biting to say the least. Things do happen in the early parts of the book while the boat has just been purchased and Martin's first visit has the hallmarks of a waking nightmare. This is no vampire dripping blood, but real evil that threatens both body and soul. There's a short chapter where Suzanne visits the barn in France that was the headquarters of the Jericho Crew and it's so fearful that even the weather conspires to add a misty threat. Everything is seen from the corner of the eye in the beginning until nerves screech raw fear. The technique is powerful and each layer of understanding piles on the terror to come.
One might imagine I'd covered the characters, but I've merely skimmed the surface. Harry Spalding is the embodiment of evil and despite being dead his manic laughter haunts both waking and sleeping moments. His character is a triumph for a horror writer the insidious threat creeps into every passage with his name in it. The deeds done by him are nasty and spiteful as well as brutal. It makes him seem unbeatable.
Martin is a nice guy, the son of a man who is selfish to the point where he tried to turn his son into a clone of him by hiring a typical sparring Irish priest to make a boxer of him. Martin nearly became a champion, but turned his back on it, but he's no wimp. His relationship with Suzanne is for life and when her life is endangered Martin springs to her aid. He's very masculine but a nice person with a good education smart and loyal to his father.
Magnus has his heart set on sailing the Atlantic with his son but he does have an unhealthy obsession with Spalding's reputation. In fact he hopes to meet the undead playboy in the hopes that he will learn how to contact his late wife, Martin's mother. Someone should have told him that playing with the Devil is a loser's game.
The real character for me was Suzanne, and to a lesser degree her double, the late Jane Boyte, a friend of the Irishman Collins, the daughter of a boat builder where she meets Spalding and a woman of the era who flew a plane and sailed the seas. Despite being targeted by Spalding and his friends, Jane almost had him arrested but he escaped in time, leaving an unsettled ghost for Suzanne to find. It's a ploy that's been used by Cottam before but I have to say it added so much to the story I forgave him the duplication.
There are sundry characters that add to the story but lengthen the review. Suffice to say that once again, the author uses every single character to great effect and adds an interest to the plot.
From beginning to end this is a story that captures the readers attention and keeps that midnight oil burning until the early hours. In trying to describe the book I've considered the target audience and have failed to find anything obvious. I'd say a reader would have to like the genre, not be put off by a ghost story and able to suspend belief long enough to discover the strength of writing this author produces.
In balancing the target readership it's possibly slightly more aimed to men than women but with a heroine as strong as Suzanne this would appeal to most woman who can stand some horror and quite a bit of blood and gore.
It's not a book that makes a lot of war but there's that persistent mention which I hope the author will step back from, having used as much as I feel necessary. Set mainly in the 'Flapper' era would have done much the same job without the war mention and might bring in some more readers. Overall it's definitely a five star book with a possibility of the author setting a new standard in intelligent horror. A worthy contemporary of such writers as James Herbert and Ramsey Campbell, he is one to watch.
Thanks for reading and I hope I've persuaded you to give it a try.
Published by Hodder & Stoughton.
357 pages in medium type.
Hardback RRP :£17.99
This review may appear on other sites. ©Lfuller2012.
By the age of fourteen Lexi Baill has already learned not to expect too much from life. Brought up by mainly foster parents and the occasional times when her mother is not taking drugs, she's already a victim of the system, but her life seems about to change when her mother dies young and she discovers she does have family, a great Aunt Eva who is willing to take her in. The year is 2000 and the place is Port George, in Washington State. Although her aunt is poor and her new home is a trailer park, to Lexi it's the first real home she's ever had and she's grateful for the little she has. The one thing that her aunt wants Lexi to have is a good education and she manages to get her a place in High School on the nearby Pine Island, a home for the wealthy children of the families who live there.
On Lexi's first day she decides to keep her head down and stay in the background and this is when she meets Mia Farraday, daughter of one of the island's most prominent families, but Mia is terribly shy and insecure which only makes life more difficult for her with her twin brother Zach being handsome, gifted and very popular. But Lexi sees something very special in Mia and the girls strike up what must be the most unlikely friendship. Soon they are inseparable and this worries Jude, mother to Mia and Zach, for Mia has already been hurt before by young girls wanting to get close to her for the sake of Zach. Fortunately Lexi values her friendship with Mia above the attraction she instantly feels for Zach, after all, he's already got a girlfriend and what could he possibly see in a girl from the wrong side of town?
Jude and her husband Miles are good parents who care about their children and make a good, friendly home for their children and the twin's friends, including Lexi who becomes a member of the family with all the help she will accept from them, but Lexi is also the type of girl that plays fair and when Mia starts to become attracted to boys, then Lexi is always looking out for her. Over the next four years the twins and Lexi become even closer and with college looming in the future the teenagers want to party as well as study. That summer will cement a bond between the three that nothing can break, but with youth and high spirits it's a time to beware, for one of the threesome will make a dangerous choice that will change everything, leaving loyalties broken and hopes dashed. For another the future will be bleak and life can never hold the promise it once had again.
Mothers and Daughters.
While this is essentially a beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking story, it does have several themes and the main one is about the challenges of parenthood and the bond between mothers and daughters. Lexi is a carefully crafted character who manages to rise above her background and become a credit to both her aunt and her 'adopted mother' Jude, who looks on her as another daughter. By making her an orphan who was abandoned many times by her own mother, her character understands what a good mother Jude is to Mia and because of this she will suffer from loneliness and insecurity later in life.
Jude is an interesting character and it's a change to see a story where all points of view manage to meld into a terrific tale of what families can do to each other. Jude's mother Caroline is cold and uncaring, a woman who drew away when her husband died, she warns Jude that her relaxed ways of parenting will only end in tears, but although Jude worries about the twins, she also cares that they have a normal teenage passage through high school and will act sensibly at parties staying away from drink and drugs.
The Challenges of Teenagers.
This is another theme the book addresses within the storyline and raises the question of how lenient can a parent be when their children grow up so fast. I felt it was slightly biased towards the youth culture, but American children do appear to have more freedom than children in the UK. I don't think UK parents have quite the same worries as American parents who often allow their children to drive before they can legally have sex or drink alcohol. The mixture of parties, drinking and driving, while in a state of heightened feelings with college being a huge event in their lives must be intense and adds to the story a terrible sense of danger so the reader is afraid to turn the page. As a parent and grandparent I could follow each thread and feel for all the people, from the daughter to the mother and grandmother.
I think I could see early on where the story was heading but it still had me turning each page hoping I would be wrong. I felt the same emotions from the point of view of a lonely 14-year-old girl to a mother scared that her children will be unhappy and not knowing what to allow and still keep them safe. It's that sense of looking through the eyes of all the characters that makes this an endearing yet fearful tale.
Naturally I don't want to give too much of the story away since it's the sort of book that will appeal to all ages of women (and probably a lot of men as well). It's about choices, both good and bad, holding back feelings until they threaten to swamp you and the bitter realization that in the end you cannot live your children's lives for them, they have to learn themselves. It's about love and longing, loss and forgiveness, holding on or letting go.
I didn't expect this to make me feel as if I was constantly taking sides and then changing them, but that's how good the author can write. If I've read anything by her before then it's not recently as I'm sure I couldn't forget such a gifted writer. I'd say this is probably a box of hankies book and without alienating any generation it's a book for all ages and one that will be hard to put down. That takes some doing and it's why I can recommend it as a great read, one mainly for the ladies and sure to make an excellent choice of a Mother's Day present. (Just read it yourself before wrapping it).
My copy is a library one; you can buy this on Amazon for £5 and free delivery.
Thanks for reading.
This review may appear on other sites.
February was a poor month for new book reviews and so I went to my library armed with a list of the best looking books on Dooyoo. I'm still getting these back, which is why I'm reviewing some different genres to my normal finds. I have read and reviewed one by Jojo Moyes last year and enjoyed it, but this looked like chick-lit so would I like it?
***Take two different people***
The plot of this book centers on the relationship between two very different characters brought together by unusual circumstances. Louisa (Lou) Clark has lived all her life in the small town of Stortford, it's main claim to fame a castle that does bring in some tourists. Working in The Buttered Bun teashop has been her only job for 6 of her twenty-seven years but she's about to be made redundant. Without any real qualifications and little experience it's going to be hard for her to find a job and her family need her income.
Will Traynor was forced to move from London back to the family home near the castle when a motorbike accident took away his movement (he's a quadriplegic) and confined him to a wheelchair. He's always been independent and at thirty-five he feels his life is over. For two years he's managed to get along with a male aide, Nathan, but now his recovery has reached it's zenith his mother feels he needs more help around his own annex, allowing for more freedom.
This is the job that is suggested by the Job center to Lou when her few tries at other menial jobs end in disaster. She's not too keen on being a Carer, but when she is told it doesn't mean any very personal duties, she agrees to go to the interview, after all, the money offered is good and the contract is initially for six months. Her family are used to depending on her income and Lou 's sister, Katrina is desperate to take up a college place now her son Thomas is five and old enough to go in a crèche. It would appear to be a good solution but what neither expect is that Lou will bring both frustration and colour to Will's depressive life, or that Lou will come to realize there is more to life than buttered buns and her boring boyfriend, Patrick.
***A Love Story with a difference. ***
From the blurb on the book I expected a lot of the book would be about a budding romance between the two with a fairy-tale ending. Such plaudits as 'Gorgeously romantic' and 'A small-life-big-dreams weepie that'll have you sniveling ecstatically into your cocoa' suggested I might want to put my finger down my throat, but as I read on I got caught up in the story and knew that under the façade of happy-ever-after, there was a real story with characters that weren't going to act as a fairy-tale prince and princess, no matter what the story promised to deliver.
After Lou gets used to being overlooked by Will she decides that some changes might do him some good and embarks on a course of action sure to lift him out of his self-imposed exile. After all, his family has plenty of money and she was taken on to drive his adapted car. The possibility that Will doesn't want cheering up and might have a very different view of his future is something that Lou isn't going to sit back and accept, especially when she finds out something that his haughty mother Camilla has kept from her. Lou has determination on her side and before long the story starts to add humour to its poignancy.
***A Class Act***
While the story is predominately about the two main characters, the difference between the classes is evident from the start of the book and without it I don't think the story would have been such a remarkable success. Lou is a working class girl who hasn't appeared to rise beyond her basic upbringing with some of the descriptions of family a little like the Royle Family, warm-hearted people with little money who get by on dreams and family ties. Lou's family consist of her mum who is never still, her dad who is afraid he'll lose his factory job, Granddad who has suffered two strokes and is looked after by all the family. Then there's Lou's sister, Treena (Katrina) who had her son Thomas when she was two thirds of her way through a college course, now having to make do with a job at a florists. They all live in the same house and both space and money are tight.
By contrast Will's family is affluent with a large home, well-to-do parents and Will's sister Georgina who lives abroad. Will had a partnership in a London firm before his accident and never wanted for money. The difference between classes is still a very English thing and Lou is sometimes hostile because she feels looked down on. Will helps her to see her goals in life could be wider, but although you feel sorry for his condition, it's sad that he doesn't see why Lou is held back and this creates barriers.
Ultimately the class differences lead to some misunderstandings but they also bring warmth to a family who desperately want their son to live and find some form of contentment. Moyes makes it clear that this was something she used rather than use Will's illness and symptoms to show the differences between the couple. Lou is still enthusiastic and hopeful because life and her family make her that way. I wouldn't have enjoyed the story so much if Will's health were the main issue, although it does have a big part to play later on.
***Tears and Laughter***
I loved the book despite expecting to find it maudlin. Instead it became an affirmation of all that can be good in a relationship based on mutual respect and willingness to make the other happy. There are parts where you will need your hanky and not be ashamed that tears are trickling down your face. Any person who has suffered a long-term illness or accident will know that fear of infection is terrible for sufferers and what any carer dreads. Also there are times when a cheerful face cannot lift depression, though it can help to stop it getting worse.
There is laughter when Lou takes Will to a racetrack and gets his wheelchair bogged down in mud. There is pleasure when Will helps Lou realize she has strengths she didn't know about and then there are times when it seems that nothing else matters except for a quiet, gentle love that grows from such an unexpected start. These are moments of magic when the author shows why she is such a respected author.
I have no hesitation in recommending this to anyone who loves a good story written with sensitivity and a strong sense of real people and issues.
My copy is a library hardback; you can buy this on Amazon for £3.45 at present.
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Having spotted this book on Dooyoo I asked the library to get me a copy and have just finished reading it. I had heard of the author and knew him more for his TV mini-series, especially Midsomer Murders, so I hoped I was in for a real treat. I didn't read Mauri's superb review before I read the book; I wanted to go to it without any pre-conceived ideas. I admit I had doubts about anyone following in the footsteps of the master himself, but after watching the latest Sherlock on TV I thought it worth a try. Like the author I've always been a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle and wondered how this new author would do, I need not have worried.
The book starts with a preface written by Dr John Watson, now aged and in a retirement home, with several children and grandchildren to turn to, but it's obvious from the start he misses his mentor very much indeed. He writes that the great detective Holmes has been dead for a year and carries on to say that the story he is about to write is one that cannot be revealed until a hundred years hence since the scandal would rock the foundations of genteel society. It's a lovely touch that gets the reader straight into the mood laid down by the writer and from there on it's as if Watson was a real person and I was reading his last book.
Devilish Deeds await the Duo.
November 1890 and London is wrapped in fog and gripped by winter's icy clutches. Sherlock Holmes and Watson are having tea by a warm fire, Watson's wife Mary is away tending a sick child and the men are reunited for a while. Their tea is soon disturbed by one Edmund Carstairs, an art dealer with a strange tale to tell. He's being followed by a disturbing stranger whose attempts at stalking are unnerving both the dealer and his family. Furthermore he believes the reason behind it to be a sinister tale of theft and murder, with his own life possibly threatened he hopes that Holmes can help him.
Naturally both Holmes and Watson are keen to help and before long those famous words are uttered ' the game's afoot, Watson.' Soon the pair is drawn into a series of puzzling encounters with events taking them from the heart of London to the outskirts of the country. From mysterious strangers to sudden death, both Holmes and Watson soon come to hear words that will have serious repercussions and send them on the trail of 'The House of Silk' whatever that may be. It could become an end game for Holmes if he doesn't solve the mystery soon as even his own brother, the well-connected Mycroft, blanches at the mere mention of the words. Can Holmes and Watson solve one of the darkest puzzles to come their way?
Setting the scene and laying the trail.
I haven't read anything by the author before now except for his scene writing and must admit I wasn't sure whether anyone could lay a plot like Doyle. But I shouldn't have worried since the author has taken great care with his research but also appears to have a natural talent at getting things as accurate as possible. The descriptions of London and the countryside are how I imagined they would be at that time. His characters are highly believable and the dialogue is faultless. It's hard to attempt period writing and keep it pure, since modern writers are used to letting the computer or laptop do half the hard work. Writing in the style of bygone times means turning off the spell-check and using all the technique at your disposal to refrain from shortening words that alone can ruin a sentence. But to write a complete narrative without losing the style is a huge achievement and worthy of praise.
Keeping the characters of both Holmes and Watson true to the age is also a laudable task and I really felt comfortable with the way the author handles both, Watson in particular seems to breath from the pages. Since the fictitious book is being written by Watson then it's natural his character is more prominent than Holmes in some ways, but the great detective still comes across as beautifully flawed as the 'real' Holmes with his tempers, his addictions, the sulks and the madcap frenzies that always make me think 'that is how Holmes should be.'
The London of the time has to be correct as well and it's easy for a writer to forget that London even in the late 1800 's was still largely a main city with plenty of suburbs that had stretches of countryside in-between. From my own observations of where my daughter lives in Isleworth, there are places that once were open country; almshouses pepper the remains of parkland and to an inhabitant in the 1880's it would be a long journey by coach from one side of modern London to the other. Horowitz stays true to a London of gas-lamps, cobbled stones, streets running with sewage at times, urchins running errands for pennies, country girls turning to prostitution to live and all kinds of opium dens, secret societies, and perverse habits dabbled in by gentlemen. The House of Silk could well be any kind of place and the author uses twists and turns to great effect in puzzling the reader.
I thought this a great read and one that would appeal to all kinds of people. It doesn't have to be a long read to be good and at 294 pages I felt it worked out just right. The story takes the reader on a journey of discovery as well as being just purely entertaining. There are some parts that might upset a few people but I felt it was justified. I expected some parts would be challenging for an amateur detective to piece together and I did manage a few stabs at the truth with limited success, but it's all part of the joy of reading a book about Holmes and Watson.
If I felt Watson to be a bit more 'alive' than Holmes, that's purely my own point of view and I'm sure another reader would disagree. There was a slight tendency in my own reading to think that Holmes didn't show enough of that brilliant deductive mind, I could be expecting too much. So overall I would recommend this as a highly readable romp with some serious issues dealt with in a sensitive way. I hope this isn't the last of 'The New Sherlock Holmes Novel'. I'm sure the author could write plenty more and still keep fans of Conan Doyle happy.
The book is available in hardback at about £9.49, a bargain for something that could well become a collectable book.
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The author Peter Straub is an American writer who has written many novels in the horror genre including some collaboration with Stephen King, one of his dear friends. Other of his novels can fall into the sci-fi genre and occasionally under thrillers. As a long-term writer he researches each book carefully and sometimes it may come across as too wordy or pretentious, when it's more likely that Straub has allowed his great expertise of writing and words in general to show through. He is a very knowledgeable and sometime sophisticated writer and this shows better when he's writing on such topics as war or thrillers.
Unfortunately the books he has written with Stephen King can lure the reader into thinking that his contribution is equal to King's, when it cannot be considered as more or less, just different. A newcomer to Straub's many novels would be better to start with either his short stories or a novel like Shadowland. This would give a better picture than I could paint, since I'm familiar with his work and therefore biased. This introduction is meant to serve as a warning to those who expect a completely different book than the write-up allows. It's accurate to a degree but I wonder whether the person who penned it ever read the book.
Author Lee Harwell leads a fairly settled life with his books doing well and his wife (also Lee) who has been blind for some fifteen years, away a lot working for the American Association for the Blind. Throughout the book the wife Lee is often referred to as Lee Truax or the Eel to ease confusion so I'll use Eel where necessary. Harwell is writing a new book but it's not going well and when a strange occurrence involving a disgruntled tramp reminds him of something in his past, he's shaken out of his complacency and forced to take a long, hard look at his life.
What he sees combined with the acquisition of an unpublished manuscript by a dead cop, sets him on a course that will have long-lasting repercussions and change his life completely. When he was a senior at Madison next to a college campus, most of his best friends including his girlfriend, were taken in by a self-appointed guru, Spencer Mallon who gained both their love and loyalty, including sexual favors from the two girls. Lee stayed out of the group but wasn't completely blind to what was happening. On a night in October Spencer took the followers to a nearby meadow where he promised a ritual would bring great revelations, but although something does happen, it culminates in one boy being torn to pieces and another vanishing completely.
The survivors don't get away Scot-free either. Each one is affected in different ways, but somehow this fails to make any impact on Lee and the Eel, except for her later blindness. As Lee emerges from his self-imposed amnesia years later, his purpose is to bring each of the friends stories together in an attempt to understand what did happen all those years ago and possibly solve another mystery, that of the Lady-killer whose story was never told.
Back to the Sixties.
Authors such as Straub and King, along with many others in a similar genre, set quite a few of their books in the era. Being a teenager in the sixties affected young people on both sides of the Atlantic, but it did affect Americans more because of the Vietnam War. Straub served in that war and many of his books attest to his experiences. But before the draft many students engaged in protest marches and sit-ins. Some of these became violent with the police being brutal and a lot of students turned to the Eastern religions of the time and also used drugs to expand their minds. Another way to uncover the 'mysteries' was to join groups and follow gurus. Many of these were conmen but a few had a little psychic knowledge and dabbled in the occult. Straub's story takes this to it's limits with A Dark Matter and the book can be stunning in it's depth at times.
Of course there were always people who stayed out of the whole 60's 'happening" and I use that word because it was a huge experience and started the roll and roll era from it's early roots of the 50's. Never before had teenagers had such a voice in their schooling, their surroundings and their future. It changed many things but it did generate some casualties with drug-induced mania and children born with drugs in their systems. Mental health problems tripled over the next forty years and it's possible the long-term effects may never be fully understood.
That's one of the reasons why Straub's novel is such an insight into those times and the aftermath of such experiments. The narrator, Lee, stayed apart but was drawn in by his friends and his wife later on. The aftermath takes him places he never dreamed of but also he is the one that's grounded and therefore can take the psychic kickback if there is such a thing. Dabblers with the Ouji Board might know a bit about my theory. So the story continues with each long chapter telling a tale of one individual's experiences. As they tell their stories they also learn something about themselves and a change occurs with most of them.
Straub has the art of getting into the deeper side of people and the characters in this book are quite different to what you might expect. He's used his own experiences of the era and added the changes wrought by growing older, but not essentially wiser, just better controlled by age and fate. It's hard not to like his characters but to do that you have to wade through some excessive language at times. Straub is intelligent and has to restrain his fervour at times. So he gives us the wife and husband team with the Eel being the bridge between the friends. Both are likable and you want to know their stories.
There is Don Olsen who was Spencer Mallon's most ardent follower who ends up broken and in and out of prison. Jason (Boats) Boatman, another thief turned security counselor. Meredith Bright, the starlet type who ends up with her looks but essentially empty. And finally Howard (Hootie) Bly whose experiences sent him mad and incarcerated in a mental hospital for most of his adult life. These are the main characters that survive, the student nearest tells the others the fate of those who didn't survive at the time of the ritual.
In trying to give a better overview of the story and maybe it's purpose I've allowed a bit more of the plot than usual, but if you expect a perfect ending then this might not be a suitable book for you. Apart from Straub's love of leaving the ending open to interpretation, there isn't anything that would work without scrambling the story. It's not an easy book to get into, so if you want an easy read try another book or even another author. If you want a book that peeks under the surface of things and shows the edge of wonder then boy are you in the right place!
I was a bit disappointed that the end did seem to trail off rather than finish with a stronger statement, but it didn't spoil the rest of the book. I struggled at times since although I love the author's work, I sometimes fail to get his allusions to other authors. His words are lengthy when easier ones would serve, but that doesn't spoil the story. So all in all I'd give this four stars and a recommendation for lovers of mystery stories who don't mind taking a while to get there.
My copy is a hard-back but you can get this at a reasonable price in most large bookshops online. As always my preferred stores is Amazon where you can also get this in paperback and Kindel version. It is a long read at 397 pages so be aware of that.
Thanks for reading.
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Fiction has gone a long way in the last twenty years to highlight the problems faced by children with behavioral problems in particular those with Aspergers or on the Autism scale. While I applaud many of the writers who handle such subjects with real sensitivity I can't help but wonder whether research can take the place of first hand knowledge, so when I saw this book in the library and read a little about the author, I was both intrigued and pleased to see that the author is writing a fiction book with first hand experience.
Cammie McGovern is a writer with several novels and stories to her name. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three children, the eldest of whom is autistic. She's also one of the founders of Whole Children, a resource center that runs after school classes and programmes for children with special needs. Concerned with the rising number of autistic children and the mystery that still surrounds the condition, her novel Eye Contact explores what could happen with a child caught up in a situation where they cannot express themselves clearly. If you may forgive the pun, this book is a real eye-opener and without casting any shadows over other writers who have attempted something similar, this is in my mind, the real thing.
Plot and Overview.
For any mother to be notified that her child is missing would be heartache enough, but when Cara learns that her son Adam has gone missing with another little girl, Amelia, her world is rocked to it's core. For Adam isn't a typical nine-year-old, he is autistic and attends a special education class in a local school, and its something that is nearly impossible to consider since he's not a child to hide or walk away. Besides, he and other children with special needs are closely watched. However, worse is to come when a little girl's body is found in the woods near the school and Adam is alive and nearby. While Cara tries to help the police with Adam, he is locked into silence, something that happens with traumatized children, and even more so for a child like Adam.
While Adam is not a suspect due to lack of motive or any forensic evidence, its clear that he knows something that could help catch the killer, but unlocking his silence is not an easy task and when another, older child goes missing the enquiries are stepped up. For Cara it's a nightmare but people do rally around to help her, some of them have their own agendas, some are merely hoping to gain admiration and some are genuinely upset for the single mum and her only son.
The story follows the investigation but also takes a look at the background behind Adam's birth and the friends that Cara once had who are now absent. While Adam's innocence is never in doubt there are things about him that his mother didn't know, things she feels she should have known like Adam's strange friendship with the murdered girl. His ability to break the rules and evade his teachers and aides to get to the woods without being seen. Cara is forced to re-evaluate everything she knows about her son and face the fact that he has moved on without her knowing. For a woman struggling to cope and give her son the best help possible, has she missed something important and can that progress Adam's made be recovered under such horrendous circumstances?
In her acknowledgments and notes on the book, Cammie McGovern explains her love of thrillers and stories that she can read when she gets a chance with three children demanding her time. She likes mystery books and tells the reader that life with an autistic child can be a mystery as well. That's what inspired her to write the book and she's used her own experiences as a mother and a member of a special community where people do help each other, to show how fragile the bond can become with mother and child.
This gives a sense of reality to the characters that I've rarely found in any similar book. Adam is a child who has formed his own routines and doesn't make friends easily. Autistic children are still a novelty to many readers and the author manages to explode a lot of the myths around such children that we see both Adam and some of the other special needs children in the story as children first, with individual personalities. Yes, they do need more attention and care, but the wrong sort of attention leads to misunderstandings and bullying that affects the way they interact with others. There are some characters in the story that muddy the waters by trying to help, but this makes things more interesting.
Cara is complex and her early childhood gives rise to some of what will happen later on so I can't give much away. She's sensitive and caring but sometimes blind to other people's needs. It makes her lose a best friend though there are solid reasons for the split. She's always been a single mum and with her parents dieing young she is very much on her own with Adam and she's only thirty years old. You want to help her see things a little clearer and yet her love for her child is a beacon in a dim world of pain and sorrow.
I think the other characters give a vibrancy to parts of the book where it could easily have got bogged down in explanations and this allows for some wonderful characters, both children and adults. The theme might be dark but the willingness of people to help set things right is an affirmation of the goodness inherent in many communities once they get to know the people involved.
My Final Thoughts.
This is a book that can and probably will sell itself on its own merits. The story is rich and complex at times, but never loses its main theme, which is solving a mystery and helping a child and his mother. Naturally we feel for the murdered child but if people were more open, then maybe things like this would not happen so much. That's a part of the story and the rest is really about the characters, so the book moves at a fast pace and is hard to put down.
I didn't feel that this was another attempt to bring autism to the notice of the public, though it's not a bad thing if people see it stripped of mystique. It's carefully plotted, driven by both characters and plot and is a satisfying book in it's own right. I thought it a great read and one I would say most sexes would be comfortable reading. At 292 pages in paperback it's about a two-day read for most people. I read it in just under 6 hours stretched across two days.
Published by Penguin books it retails at £6.99 UK price.
You can pick this up on Amazon for less and it would be a bargain.
Thanks for reading.
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While the newspapers and film buffs argue about the merits of a little French film translated into English for the pleasure of young filmgoers in the UK, I was simply taking my six-year-old grandson Jack to see a film he'd seen a trailer of a few weeks ago. We usually try and see something in 2D if possible since neither Jack or his slightly wobbly Nan are that bothered about scene images jumping out at us. I wasn't really sure what the film was about since it was very much a last minute choice with the usual packed cinemas in London over the half term. We went to see it at the Odeon in Richmond, which is a cinema I'm comfortable with due to it's comfortable seating, disabled access and toilets. (For me).
Based in Paris during the flooding of 1910, Raoul and his friend Emile are making a delivery of peat to a large garden where the absent proprietor has left clear instructions with Charlie the monkey, to keep out all visitors since his experimental gardens are best left alone. But Raoul is nosy and ignoring Charlie's scribbled notes (no, don't go there, etc), he pulls an unwilling Emile inside, messing around with the test tubes and accidentally creating a giant sunflower. What he doesn't realize as they leave is that another accident has created a monster, in the form of a giant flea, looking more like something from a horror film.
Meanwhile, in a local nightclub the beautiful and talented Lucille is singing on stage, dressed as an angel her theme song is in praise of the River Seine. (It's one of the main songs in the film and one that's repeated frequently so worth a mention.) Seated at a prominent table, the mayor Maynott, a rather dubious character who isn't about to spend money on solving the flooding problem, turns his attention to Lucille but is soon side-tracked when he hears the news about the monster that's terrorizing the population. If he can capture the monster it would bring him popularity and maybe the affection of Lucille, but first he needs some volunteers to do his dirty work and guess who he picks?
Naturally the flea is just bounding around at great heights because that's what fleas do, but when Lucille finds him cowering in an alleyway, trying to stay out of the rain, her heart melts and she hides the flea (now called Francoeur) in plain sight, first in her dressing-room and then on stage, where, complete with zoot-suit, a mask and some snazzy shoes he becomes quite a sensation. The rest of the film follows the mishaps of Raoul and co as they first try to capture the monster and then save him in a frequently hectic race across Paris in a converted wagon with some crazy antics. It's all in good fun and keeps both kiddies and adults occupied for the 90 minutes running time.
Art and Sound.
I'm not an expert on design but the sets for the animation are gloriously pastel to start with, evoking a Paris of mists and cobbled stones, the lazy drifting of the river even under flooding and the atmosphere of an impressionist's dream. The sets for the stage are simple but effective and the sound is pleasant without intruding. I was surprised to discover there were a lot of songs in this but I could only remember two and had difficulty with the lyrics on both. I was even more surprised by the voice of the flea, Sean Lennon, whose voice is definitely pleasant though with none of the power of his father.
Where the sets really went to town were with some of the escapades of the friends as they try to keep Francoeur out of the hands of the Mayor. Its pure slapstick in places and funny enough with car chases and flying boats not to mention the Eiffel tower, that Jack recognized with glee, 'I've been up there,' he announced quite loudly. Good to see that the art was on form, I thought.
I love animation because it allows for some truly lovely free-style graphics and the colour and movement on this is pure magic. The one scene involves the monster dressed for the stage and looking a bit like the Phantom of the Opera, doing a song and dance routine with Lucille, first on the stage and then in a dream sequence floating above the bridges over the Seine, around the tower and in and out of the lamp lights. It's gloriously corny and I loved it as much as the children. I did feel a bit let down with the sound and thought at first it was me. The dubbing was fine, but the songs were catchy and I'd have liked to seen the song on the scene to sing along with it. Jack and I couldn't get the chorus, which just sounded like the words, 'Lesson, Lesson, Lesson.' They were Le Seine, Le Seine Le Seine but were drawled together.
Apart from that I had no complaints on the translation, which was expert and if there were any little slips nobody noticed.
Film reviews for me are few and far between as I rarely go to the cinema unless it's to see children's films. I did enjoy this a lot but did Jack like it?
Firstly he thought it was good but not as much fun as the trailer made it out to be. On the plus side he loved the music, especially when we watched a trailer on one of the websites to get the words for Le Seine and I. Jack loves music and comedy and doesn't mind a bit of the mushy stuff that boys normally cringe at. He did think the star Lucille was an angel, not a woman dressed as one, so maybe the wings were overdone a bit. He understood the science behind my muddled explanation of 'Growmore' but not the joke.
I don't think he completely followed the plot, but since it wasn't that clear I don't think many children would get all the subtle parts. To me I saw a lot of references to Phantom of the Opera, but then I love musicals and knew the story. Still, it was a clever bow to the story. Jack loved the characters of Raoul and Lucille, but like most boys he thought the monster was 'cool'. He also thought (like me) that the monkey writing the notes was great fun and should show filmmakers that children notice these things.
I'd certainly recommend seeing this in the cinema and if you haven't got a grandchild borrow one for the night! I think I enjoyed it as much as Jack did.
Released in France in 2011, in the UK January 2012.
Directors: Bibo Bergeron. Stephen Kuzandjiu
With...Bob Balaban, Catherine O'Hara, and Sean Lennon as the voice of the flea/monster.
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Having read some good things about this book I decided to put it in front of a few I have ready to read and managed to get through it in two days, not a bad feat when it's 387 pages in Hardback. Mine was a library copy but will I be buying the paperback to read again?
***The Circus comes to town***
Ever since I read a Ray Bradbury story about a fairground, I've found both fairgrounds and circuses a little sinister. The night circus obviously has the same effect as it appears one day without any fanfare, just sets itself down in a field and announces over the entrance that it will open at Nightfall and close at Dawn. Fabulous in appearance with a striking Monotone design, the circus attracts much attention on its debut night in the mid 1880's. An exact date is hard to pin down since the book follows it's own timeline with accounts of various attractions interspersed between the stories of how the circus came into being.
The circus is a series of circles that twist and turn into other tents by way of a covered pathway enclosed by a continuous fence. Rather than a main attraction there is always something happening in any of the many tents formed of fire, ice, dreams and desires. It is magic in motion and many hands have brought it into being though it is kept going by a most curious effect-pure magic.
A bargain was struck and a pact made some years previously by a Magician and a Sorcerer, the one putting forward his only child, Celia against the Scorer's apprentice, Marco in a contest to see who will be the stronger of the two. Many minds were manipulated and fortunes spent and made bringing the circus into being as the game board for the contestants to play on. Whether they choose to or not, their lives and the lives of all the many acrobats, jugglers, conjurers, fortune tellers and even some of the backers depends on the contest carrying on in a state of perpetual motion. But the contestants fall in love and love changes many things, including the fairness of being apart for all of their lives.
***Les Rêveurs (The Dreamers)***
The circus is called Le Cirque de Rêves and its many followers call themselves the dreamers. The circus is able to travel by train from city to country and from one continent to the next. Over the years its followers become a part of the great event although their journeys are more mundane than the circus, which appears to just fold up and vanish, re-appearing at the next destination. Something rather strange happens to the people who formed or aided the design of the circus; they don't age but carry on, though that can cause problems. When an accident occurs bringing the death of the clockmaker, a dear friend of Celia, it becomes plain that something must break the stalemate without doing too much harm, but how can this be done?
With such a sumptuous story the characters are, by definition, larger than life and are suitably exotic in most cases. Naturally the main players are Celia and Marco, the lovers who gradually realize their fate is more than a game. Marco was taken from an orphanage at an early age and taught by the creepy Alexander- a man who is older than time. Celia is the unwanted daughter of the enchanter Hector Bowen who has played this game before. That she retains loyalty to her father keeps her human and she is beautiful of form and soul. Though Marco starts a little arrogant, he soon shows his true colors and takes on the role of protector with zeal.
Many people flit in and out of the story as it meanders back and forth through time, the purpose of this eventually shows a reason, but is disconcerting at first. The reader entering the story does so as a dreamer as well; one cannot remain unaffected by such magical penmanship. Here we find villains to boo at, lovers to coo at and plenty of fun with the twins Widget and Poppet, along with their feline friends.
Amongst the human followers are the clockmaker, Fredrick Thiessen, the architect Ethan Barris, the twin Burgess sisters and Tante Padva along with Chandresh Christophe Lefevre who runs the circus and then there's the twin's friend Bailey, who is possibly more important than he seems. But this is the circus and time is short so let's leave them to their enchantments and visit awhile the silent breathing statues, the contortionist who knows more than she lets on and maybe have our tarot cards read by Isobel, the raven-haired beauty who first seduced Marco. We have until dawn before the circus closes for another night.
As much as I wanted to be a true dreamer, I think maybe I expected too much of the performers. The story is excellent and follows each twist of the circus with magic aplenty. The players are superb, they sparkle with enchantment and the dialogue is rich with witticism, so why is it not a perfect score? Dare I say I found the lovers a little immature and wooden at times without offending fellow dreamers? That surely the harshness of the gamblers and the cost of the stakes were overlooked for so long? That the signs were there for the open-eyed to see and the performers are adept at seeing clearly.
Still, the trapping of the book is a delight with each page edged in black to follow the monotone theme of the circus. The figures adorning the front are white on black with many flourishes and furbelows to dazzle the eye. A touch of whimsical red ribbon shows that dreamers are invited within these pages and we really hope they will stay and explore at some length and at a fair price, for entry must be charged even to fellow rêveurs. It is to be noted that the great repository of dreams, Amazon, are charging just a pittance at £7.79 or there is a different way of perusing the pathways called Kindle at just £7.01.
I just wish that the box of delights offered had not been a little sticky in parts and the elegance of the period had been described in much more detail for travelers by word need more than pencil sketches to fire the imagination. I am impressed by the scope of the imagination but a trifle under whelmed by its application. Therefore a lamentable four stars from this reviewer.
Thank you for reading.
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I felt lucky that I'd escaped the winter coughs and colds this year, especially since the one that's been affecting my friends has left them with a persistent dry hacking cough that's lasted in a few cases for up to three months. But when I went to my daughter's in London for the half-term holidays I wasn't quite so lucky. What the Welsh couldn't do my grandson managed to infect me with what I presumed was a cold but by the end of the week was a raging temperature, thirst, shivering and a throat that felt as if I'd been swallowing sharpened knives.
'He had it for two weeks.' My daughter told me, standing well back from me. 'Perhaps I'd better cancel our weekend break.'
The weekend break is something we try to do as a family once or twice a year, generally in the off-season when prices aren't so prohibitive, but that's another story. Bravely I thought I'd manage, especially since we were staying nearer to Wales than London. I had a long conversation with a local chemist about cough medicines since I take a lot of different medications and I have to be extra careful what I take. My main problem is that I already take co-codamol, which is codeine and paracetamol and I can't take more paracetamol, effectively taking out most of the cold remedies. My tablets ease pain and aching limbs and help temperatures, but do nothing to soothe a sore throat and a tickly cough.
The pharmacist went away to consult a book and also checked the remedies that could re-act badly with my blood pressure tablets. This is something that's very important since anything that clashes with the medication can cause a drop or increase in blood pressure and mine is just controlled at the moment. I expected to come away with throat sweets but the pharmacist came back with a bottle of Benylin Dry Cough medicine. She'd read that it was okay to take and did soothe a scratchy cough. It's also non-drowsy so wouldn't contradict my other tablets. It was also okay to use with blood pressure tablets in general. Now while you might not consider it that important, some medicines do have bad reactions so I really want to stress that this new cough syrup was marvelous for me.
I don't normally give a long list of ingredients but the main one in this is called Dextromethorphan that soothes the throat and suppresses the need to cough. Even after I started to pass on to the 'chesty' phrase of the infection I found this still helped the cough become more 'productive' and eased my breathing that was starting to get quite rapid by then (five days later). However, another ingredient in this syrup is ethanol, which is 6% alcohol and even at low doses needs to be taken into account if (like me) you can't drink alcohol. I had a quick chat with the pharmacist about this and she said I would be fine with the small amount, but if I'd been struggling with a drink problem any amount could start a relapse. It's not a good idea for a child either, so this is suitable for children over 12 and adults only.
It also contains some sugar and diabetics need to add the amount into their daily allowance if tablet controlled. I did think that with the ingredients listed this might have a drowsy effect, but was reassured this is a non-drowsy formula. It did work well enough in the early stages to allow me a few hours of unbroken sleep though. It also took care of my sore throat though it was nearly five days before I felt like eating. The dosage is two 5ml spoons up to 4 times per day and since I had painkillers for the aches and pains I felt that at £4.59 for 150mls it was adequate. I could have bought an all-in-one medicine for colds but they aren't that effective with the co-codamol and I get all my prescriptions free in Wales. It did tide me over until I got home early this week, but having used the whole bottle and now having a chesty cough, I will probably try the Benylin chesty cough medicine. Naturally I'll be seeing the doctor since I'm going to need an anti-biotic, but our doctors don't prescribe remedies to ease infections, only ones to try and cure it.
I'd never really considered buying in these sorts of over-the-counter remedies before, though I have used Benylin when I was younger. I can really recommend this cough mixture as soothing, keeping me on my feet (just about) and being safe. It also tastes quite pleasant. This will be going in my medicine cabinet for sure.
Thanks for reading and stay healthy.
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Why do so many people (including women) find the genre of thrillers and forensic medical thrillers in particular so readable with the goriest and bloodiest of books being the most sought after? I haven't got the answer and since I am guilty as charged then the only thing I can say is that somewhere inside us is a lure of the darkness inside us that we prefer to let out by reading such books. Certainly there must be a good reason since I've just read one of the most shockingly explicit book by Tess Gerritsen and it got me glued to its pages well into a (disturbed) night.
The acclaim for this book also adds the fact that it's a deeply disturbing and dark thriller with plenty of excitement, ultra-gory, shocking, efficient scary and one more important fact, it rages against the fact that women suffer such crimes but are strong enough to survive them and it's that last plaudit I held onto.
There's a killer on the loose in Boston- a viscous killer who preys on lonely and traumatized women, rendering them to a bloody prop in his nightmare scenarios. Even hardened detectives such as Thomas Moore and his partner Jane Rizzoli cannot recall ever coming across such vile horrors before and for some of the team it's enough to send them flying for the nearest toilet. Surely only a madman could be so inhuman as to torture a naked woman and remove her uterus while she is still alive, finally applying the killing stroke by a slash across the throat that almost decapitates the victim?
As the stunned team starts their investigation a beautiful local medic becomes involved and for Dr Catherine Cordell it's a recurrence of a terrible nightmare when two years previously she barely escaped with her life from a killer who operated in exactly the same way but she stopped by shooting him dead. Has a copycat killer followed her from Savannah to Boston and if so, how could he know all the details that the police routinely keep back in any investigation? With two women already butchered and more to follow unless they can crack the crime, this is one investigation that will push Moore And Rizzoli to hell and back.
***Setting the crime-scene. ***
Tess Gerritsen is one of my favourite female thriller writers and knows what she writes about from her medical background. This is one of her earlier books and is fourth in a series with Detective Rizzoli, the female cop that has to fight to stay on the ball in a man's world. The book was published in 2001 and for some reason is one I missed. The author writes of what she knows, whether it's from a crime scene or a doctor struggling in surgery to save a person's life, elbows deep inside a chest or stomach cavity, a nurse assisting by mopping up the blood.
There is also a lot of suppressed anger in this book, which I consider is possibly a reaction to the number of women who gets passed over as lightweights in a male dominated world. In this book her victims suffer from rape over long periods of time and are too scared to report it, locking them inside their lives and even their houses where they become victims of murder. The descriptions are explicit and turned my stomach at times as well as angering me, but this does happen and being angry is sometimes not enough. By taking the victim's uterus while she is still alive, the killer is taking away a woman's femininity as well as her life. It's the ultimate obscenity and it made me wonder if I should be reading it.
What Gerritsen does is to take a plot, set a background for her killer, giving him pathology, a voice in the novel and a large part of the story. While we get to know the team in charge of catching the killer, we also follow some of what goes on in the killer's head, so we are taking some part in the discoveries as they happen. It's a rare quality that few writers do so well as Gerritsen and it works because we start to really care about nailing this abominable apology for a man (we learn early on it's a male unsub). If I have one little niggle, it's just that this book takes on a theme of such magnitude by having two sets of killings with a gap in between that the details sometimes get a bit muddled. However, the denouement is worth the page flicking!
I almost feel like listing them to keep track of who belongs to what section and which crime, but as long as you keep paying attention the players soon become as close to you as your family. Naturally there are people you don't want to know, although the killer just happens to be educated and with some knowledge of sacrifice his frequent mentions of Greek Mythology become relevant. It doesn't detract from his abominable crimes but gives some character.
Amongst the police force we have Detective Moore, who is a quietly spoken gentleman who makes all the other cops look like barbarians. Naturally the women fall for him and the reader sees Rizzoli as a woman who stops trying to be one of the lads so Moore will see her as a woman. It adds interest and shows up the crew of other detectives who aren't quite as insensitive as they first appear. There's a lot more to find out about the characters that have been in earlier books and will appear in later books, but this can be read as a standalone without any problems.
Sadly it's the victims that take the awards here for the characters. Catherine Cordell has to be one of the strongest women I've come across next to Agent Starling in 'Silence of the Lambs.' She has already suffered rape by being drugged but fought back and shot her assailant. Moving to a new town and a new job as a trauma surgeon cannot be easy, but when another woman is attacked and left alive as a 'present' to her, you can see the fear this character has to live with. The message is,' you CAN survive' but at what cost?
I took this book to heart for several reasons. Firstly I chose this because I needed something to read while away, both traveling and at nighttime. It has to be a strong story to hold my interest and this fit the bill. Secondly I am presently toying with my own writing, which I feel has gone stale and needed a book I could care about. This really did keep me awake and made me think along the lines of why do women read such books when we fear becoming targets? Thirdly (and by chance) I caught a bad cold and needed a diversion.
I certainly got all my requirements and more. It's a novel that's meant to be read as fiction, but it did make me think a lot about why we read these books and what impact do they have on readers? For me I'm still looking over my shoulder at bedtime, but I have also found another book that's keeping me up at nights. All I can add is that I enjoy being scared to a certain level and after that I reassure myself that on the whole, mankind has far more heroes than villains, at least after reading 'The Surgeon' I hope so.
Highly recommended for those with strong stomachs. If you are even a tiny bit squeamish, forget it!
My book was a charity shop buy at £1 you can buy this for much the same with postage from Amazon.
Thanks for reading.
This review may appear on other sites. ©Lfuller2012.
The wording on the front of this book underneath the main title simply asks 'Would you ever give up looking?' and I think most women would answer 'not for a very long time, if ever.' But the pain, the uncertainty and the longing would eventually ease and hopefully more children would be born and life would eventually regain some sort of equilibrium. But for the character of Carla Kelly after her two-day old daughter Isobel is stolen from her and her husband Robert Gardner, life will never be the same and for Carla in particular the loss will echo down the years changing everything she has ever been and hopes to be into ashes as she fails to let her beloved daughter go.
Miles away in a small country town in rural Ireland, another woman faces the agony of childbirth with more than the usual fear, for Susanne Dowling has a long history of miscarriage and as she watches the beautiful face of Carla Kelly, model and proud mother-to-be, she wants only to have a live baby to call her own. When miracle baby Joy is seemingly born to Susanne while husband David is working away on the oil rigs, one woman's agony and loss is another woman's triumphant gain, or is it? For Susanne can never tell her shameful secret and her lovely daughter Joy must spend an isolated childhood as the secrets remain under cover.
Carla will never lose hope that Isobel will be found and dedicates her life to becoming reunited with her child, losing her career, her home and eventually her husband as she refuses to start a new life.
***A Strange Co-Incidence***
Naturally the reader doesn't take long to guess miracle baby Joy's real mother, but the story so lovingly and sympathetically written by author Laura Elliot is not meant as a mystery story to be unraveled, in fact she gives the game away from the start with the revelation in her Acknowledgements that the seed of the story came from a newspaper report on a stolen child that she'd read about when she was a young girl herself. She asks the question what would it be like to meet your real flesh and blood after many years of thinking you belonged to a whole different family. It's a question that the book strives to answer eventually but the real story is about the two women and how each almost allows the loss on one side and the gain on the other to take control of their lives.
If the reader skipped the author's introductions the very first words of the first chapter would give the story away with it's sad lines, ' I buried my baby on the shortest night of the year...she was my almost-child, my shattered dream. Sixteen weeks in my womb before she came away. Born on the longest day of the year, webbed fingers and toes, her veins delicate as skeins of silk. Sweet little monkey face.'
I cried as I read that opening, feeling as any mother can of the terrible pain that comes from losing a child, even if has never happened to you it can be felt in the tug of your own womb, the pain of an empty place inside, the singing of sweet baby murmurs in your ears, those little coos of bubbling contentment after a milky feed.
I won't give away any more of the plot since the book is about the lives of the two women and their families. Shortly after the terrible opening sequence the book goes back a short way to show how one pregnancy was almost in line with the other and how this helps Susanne get away with passing one woman's newborn child off as her own. She had watched Carla's pregnancy as a model gloriously healthy and modeling her sister-in-laws maternity range of clothes and baby items on television and in magazines. As the story continues each chapter is given the voice of one woman and the time line. So as the years pass Joy herself gets her own voice, and so does the fathers of the baby.
Naturally such a story covers many themes in it's telling with the main one obviously about why women take that initial act and steal a child, but how do they get away with it and why do they carry on that deceit? It's a large topic on it's own, but with the two women having something in common it asks other questions of ethics.
Both Carla and Susanne worked as models for an older man who took advantage of them both. At different times they both had abortions and this acts as a catalyst at different times to the women. To Carla it's retribution especially when the press find out. For Susanne it's a lapsed catholic upbringing suggesting God's hand in her inability to carry a child to term.
With both women coming from a similar background there is an understanding that might not exist if they had come from different childhoods and for Carla, though younger, her guilt over modeling while pregnant takes her over, almost as if she was asking to have her baby taken from her. So although the book is set in the 1990's, the topics are still very modern.
While not important to the story the setting of the story in Ireland had a profound effect on some of the questions it poses as any woman brought up as a catholic appears to be affected by the religious aspects. To me I found the gentle trust of the people and the happiness that a baby brings echoed in the village life. I also loved the wonderful descriptions of places so carefully penned by the author I really wanted to see those sights for myself.
Naturally the women take center stage and the reader cannot help being judgmental in some ways. I felt sorry for both women and then started to get annoyed with both as they failed to get on with their lives. For one trapped by deceit, she still pushes her husband away and the other refusing to try for another baby also pushes her husband away. This affects their extended families, the parents, and siblings, leeching the joy of a sister when she has her first baby and tearing families down the middle. It starts to read as a study in how an action can gather such momentum that it cannot stop itself from further damage.
As Joy grows up the damage done to her by isolation becomes more pronounced and the reader wonders if there can possibly be any happy ending to such turmoil of deceit and despair. It's then that parents and in-laws, cousins and dear friends show that love does have a power of it's own to heal some wounds, even though they may be old ones. It's also a strong contender for that old question of nature versus nurture. Who makes or breaks the child?
While the story is fairly obvious I have given very little away and there is much to enjoy from the book. Although it might upset some people I found it very sad at times but also very hopeful and uplifting at others. It gave me back some of my faith in human nature and reminded me that while we are parents ourselves, we are always somebody's children before that and the legacy given to us by our parents is never wasted or to be taken for granted. It also reminded me how special it is to be able to give birth to a child and that women who are never allowed that joy can still adopt and love some other person's child more than life itself.
My copy of the book was a library book and I picked it up as a light read along with several thrillers. I'm glad I did, as it's gentle message remains with me two weeks after I read it. Do read it and enjoy some Ahhh moments.
Thanks for reading.
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I've recently returned from my trip to see my grandson and as I always try to do, I buy a small present for him since he has come to expect it. But knowing I would be spending money over the week and treating him to other things I scoured the charity shops for a light board game that would fit my suitcase. I'd fancied buying the children's monopoly for some time but I know that Jack is often impatient and didn't know if he would play this or get bored and waste my money. After paying £3 for a game with every piece intact, I felt I had a bargain to go with my other presents. This actually turned out to be the favourite one.
The game is based on the adult version but instead of properties there is a board with a similar style as the adult one, but with a fairground theme instead. It's a rectangular shape board with a brightly colored background and each square has a similar value to the adult theme, so children who have heard or seen adult monopoly can relate to the children's one. The board is spaced out in this way.
One side will have a corner with a 'Go' square or a café, Bus Ride etc. The colored squares denote equivalent fairground rides such as Merry-go-round, haunted House, Pitch & Toss, and Roller- Coaster. These are broken up by the railway lines that come in four colours and every time you land on these you get a second go. Other squares have a chance card and these are either a free go at a ticket booth or other goes, either ones that make money or lose a little.
These include cars, which replace the boot, top hat etc of the adult version, much easier for a child to remember. Then there are sets of 'chalets', which look like houses. Along with this are a dice and the all-important factor, the loose money, in denominations of £1,2,3,4 and 5 notes. The only quibble I had with these is the similar colours with some of the notes looking almost identical. There is also a rulebook, which we perused and then put to one side. With all games I find that bending rules can lengthen or shorten games or make them more interesting to younger children.
**Game in Play***
The rules are basically similar to the adult one; the winner is the player with the most money left after several circuits of the board. Each player starts with a set amount of money with the bank retaining enough to pay the £2 pocket money every time a player passes Go. Landing on a fairground 'ride' that has an amount of money by it means the player can purchase that 'pitch'. Since there aren't any ownership cards then we chose the same colour chalet as our car to denote ownership. It also makes the board look quite interesting and a place to avoid if one player has plenty of properties. The more people that are playing will set the speed of the game; we found that a game never actually ended.
**A Child's Play**
I expected Jack to enjoy some of the game but was surprised by his attitude towards finishing the game. Since it was usually just him and me playing then we both still had a fair bit of money after a half hour and with Jack getting fidgety it was time to get out of the house. He was the one who asked if the game could be left in situ to show to Mummy and Daddy, so we left it there and picked up the game the next day and so on throughout my stay. He really enjoyed playing it and was fascinated by the idea of 'owning' a property and charging people to use it. Naturally his attitude to money isn't that developed at the moment but he did like owning it and adding the amounts up to see how much he owned.
While we were playing I discovered that Jack had little concept of money beyond knowing what coins were called. Since he's going to be seven in April I was a bit concerned since I knew far more about the prices of goods at that age, but Jack doesn't actually carry any money so I felt it was time he got a rough idea about values. The other thing I noticed was his surprise when I gave him a £2 note with a £1 note to make three pounds. This was because I had a huge pile on ones and this started a discussion on pockets full of change. Though it's not something every child would spot, I felt it led to a good discussion on money in general and therefore had more than a little educational value.
I feel you get what you want out of games and children respond differently, so my recommendation might not suit another. However, this does seem a popular game and appealed to Jack's interest in a positive way. On the one hand he isn't very fond of fairgrounds so I had to adapt the game a little, but counting money and owning it (even for a short time) made him feel a little more responsible and that's something I want to encourage in him.
I like the way the game hasn't altered very much and can see him moving on to a more grown up version soon.
The one I bought was a charity shop buy but I would now definitely buy a similar one since it's worth the money.
Thanks for reading.
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