How to Kill Your Husband (and Other Handy Household Hints) by Kathy Lette Monday, Feb 20 2012 

Title: How To Kill Your Husband (and Other Handy Household Hints)
Author: Kathy Lette
ISBN: 0743248066
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
First Published: 2006
No. of pages: 326

Rating: 4/5

All women want to kill their husbands some of the time: “Where there’s a will, I intend to be in it,” wives half-joke to each other. Marriage, it would appear, is a fun-packed frivolous hobby, only occasionally resulting in death. But when Jazz Jardine is arrested for her husband’s murder, the joke falls flat. Life should begin at 40 – not with life imprisonment for killing your spouse. Jazz, stay-at-home mum and domestic goddess; Hannah, childless career woman; and Cassie, demented working mother of two are three ordinary women. Their record collections are classical, not criminal. Cassie and Hannah set out immediately to prove their best friend’s innocence, uncovering betrayal, adultery, plot twists, thinner thighs and toy boys aplenty en route but will their friendship survive these ever darker revelations? Sexy, funny and wise, Kathy Lette’s irresistible new novel is about women not Having It All But Doing It All. It’s about how today’s mother is often a married lone parent. It’s about the fact that no woman has ever shot her husband while he was vacuuming.

While reading this book I was subject to odd looks from my colleagues as they watched me laughing to myself in the corner of the cafeteria. I had to explain to several very worried-looking colleagues that no, it’s not a DIY manual and I am not planning the gruesome murder of my beloved spouse; it is merely an incredibly funny novel which really appealed to my wicked sense of humour and I just happen to have a laugh so evil it’s developed a sinister personality of its own.

The chapter titles alone are enough to set me off on a giggle-fest:

Ch 5 If He Wants Breakfast in Bed, Tell Him to Sleep in the Kitchen
Ch 10 The Reason I Don’t Tell You When I’m Having an Orgasm Is Because You’re Never There
Ch 19 I’m Having My Period So Can Therefore Legally Kill You
Ch 25 Where There’s a Will, I Wanna Be In It

Sincerely though, I highly recommend for all you lovely ladies to pick up a copy of this hysterical look at marriage gone awry… and then delight in terrorising the man in your life by grinning like a maniac while reading it in his presence.


Broken (Women of the Otherworld 6) by Kelley Armstrong Monday, Feb 20 2012 

Title: Broken (Women of the Otherworld 6)
Author: Kelley Armstrong
ISBN: 1841493422
Publisher: Orbit
First Published: 2006
No. of pages: 444 pages

Rating: 4/5

Book 6 in Kelley Armstrong’s supernatural series marks the return of werewolf Elena Michaels from Bitten and Stolen. When half-demon Xavier calls in the favour Elena owes him, it seems easy enough – steal Jack the Ripper’s ‘From Hell’ letter away from a Toronto collector who had himself stolen it from the Ripper evidence boxes in the Metropolitan Police files. But nothing in the supernatural world is ever as simple as it seems. Elena accidentally triggers a spell placed on the letter, and manages to tear an opening that leads into the nether regions of Victorian London. Toronto may be looking for a tourism boost, but ‘Gateway to Hell’ isn’t quite the new slogan the city had in mind…

This was a very welcome return to the lycanthropic inhabitants of Stonehaven (they have been relegated more to the background over the last three installments in the series) and although I didn’t feel this quite lived up to Bitten and Stolen, it came pretty close! There were times that I felt Elena was perhaps being a little reckless for someone who is pregnant and very vocal on the subject of being careful whilst carrying her child and this detracted a little from the reality that Armstrong has carefully constructed as a home to her characters.

The supernatural aspect of the Ripper legend was a nice twist on an old and well-loved theme, and there was the element of sleuthing as well as the usual thrills, chills and spills you’d expect from the Women of the Otherworld series.

All in all, Broken is an excellent addition to the WotOW catalogue and I very much look forward to seeing how Armstrong further develops her characters in future novels.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov Monday, Feb 20 2012 

Title: Lolita
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
ISBN: 0140 264078
Publisher: Penguin
First Published: 1955
No. of pages: 315

Rating: 4/5

Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, who he’ll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? Or is he all of these?

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth, Lo. Lee.Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly in school. She was Dolores on the dottedline. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

So begins one of the most controversial novels of modern times, charting the unconventional relationship between the older man, Humbert Humbert, and a girl of twelve. It’s a tale told from the point of view of Humbert (a character so good they named him twice!) and is surprisingly persuasive in garnering sympathy for a man who is, essentially, a pedophile. The torment he suffers through his obsession with Lolita and the length to which he will go to possess her are beautifully told – at times poignantly poetic – in a style that illustrates the author’s love of a language which isn’t his mother tongue (I could almost cry at how beautifully he writes!).

This is truly a modern classic and the subject, though fraught with danger, is tactfully engaged so that the reader is forced to re-evaluate conventional thinking in terms of relationships between adults and children who are often less innocent than one might believe. It’s a tale of epic proportions, a telling commentary on life, love and obsession, and an amoral love letter to every nymphette who ever lived.

Bad Kitty (Bad Kitty 1) by Michele Jaffe Monday, Feb 20 2012 

Title: Bad Kitty
Author: Michele Jaffe
ISBN: 0141319763
Publisher: Puffin
First Published: 2006
No. of pages: 302

Rating: 4/5

Jas thinks that everyone has a super power: Everyone, that is, except herself – unless you count her extraordinary ability to get herself in trouble. But the last thing Jas expected to do on her family holiday in glitzy Las Vegas was to survive a cat attack and solve a celebrity murder mystery. As she finds herself tracking an unknown killer through a bevy of Vegas parties, Jas develops a huge crush on the possibly evil – but gorgeous – Jack, and manages to collect some valuable life lessons for her “Summer Meaningful Reflection Journal” along the way. Little Life Lesson Number 5: when you go to prison, try not to be wearing a bikini. But despite a few ‘mishaps’, Jas finally solves the case. And to top it all off, Jack isn’t evil, and has a bit of a crush on Jas too. Perhaps she does have some super powers after all…

If you’re looking for fun, fashion and super-sleuthing, then look no further than Michele Jaffe’s heroine, Jas Calihan! Jas attracts trouble like moths to a flame, so when she tries to enjoy a family holiday in Las Vegas, it’s no surprise to her friends that she ends up embroiled in a mysterious plot involving kidnapping, murder and incredibly good-looking guy who’s totally Visa (read the book – you’ll know what I mean!).

This is the first in what promises to be a witty and hilarious series – it have me giggling from the get-go and guessing till the last minute. It’s jam-packed with action, adventure and the occasional haiku, yet still manages to keep things real. Not to be missed!

Incidentally, my own superpowers are speed-reading and an ability to run down flights of stairs whilst carrying full mugs of hot coffee – without spilling a drop!

There Once Was a Boy Called Tashi by Anna and Barbara Fienberg Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: There Once Was A boy Called Tashi
Author: Anna and Barbara Fienberg
ISBN: 1741141982
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
First Published: 2006

Rating: 4/5

When Gloomin the ogre tramples the village, Tashi must find what he’s looking for, or else the village will have years of the Gloomin winter. There once was a boy called Tashi, who had a way with witches and warlords. He wasn’t afraid of giants, or ghosts, or the wicked baron by the river, but never, ever, had he dreamed of an ogre such as Gloomin. When the ogre tramples into the village, the Magic Warning Bell screams out, and the people all hurry into their houses. Only Tashi is brave enough to face the Gloomin…Step into the magical world of Tashi.

Tashi is an inquisitive fellow who will delight both toddlers and young readers. The bold print is clear and easily read and the accompanying pictures are delightful. This fable of a courageous young boy imparts a lovely lesson – that with a little bravery and understanding, we can find the best in others. Highly recommended.

Happy Birthday, Jamela! by Niki Daly Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: Happy Birthday, Jamela!
Author: Niki Daly
ISBN: 1845074025
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
First published: 2006

Rating: 4/5

It’s Jamela’s birthday, and she and Mama are off to buy some new shoes. As soon as Jamela sees the Princess Shoes with their sparkly buckles and little satin bows, she falls in love with them, but Mama points out that she’ll have to wear the shoes for school too, so a sad Jamela ends up with sensible black shoes. Alone in her room, Jamela tries her best to make the shoes look princessy with beads, glitter and glue – and only succeeds in making Mama very angry indeed. But a lady called Lilly thinks Jamela’s decorated shoes are fabulous.

This beautifully illustrated story is bursting with life and excitement. Very young children will love having it read to them whilst looking at the brightly coloured pictures and young readers will enjoy the fun tale of Jamelia, who takes matters into her own hands when she is disappointed by her boring school shoes. Here, a child with a bright idea discovers self-worth with the help of a friendly and artistic adult and finds that a little hard work can have the nicest results!

Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: Geisha of Gion
Author: Mineko Iwasaki
Pocket Books
First Published:
No. of pages:

Rating: 4/5

‘I want you to know what it is really like to live the life of a geisha, a life filled with extraordinary professional demands and richly glorious rewards. It is a life in which I was a pre-eminent success; many say the best of my generation. And yet, it was a life that I found too constricting to continue. And one that I ultimately had to leave. It is a story that I have long wanted to tell. My name is Mineko.’

Mineko begins with her initiation into the profession she would perfect. Following her blossoming over the years, we learn all about the intricate training and rigid education system by which Japanese girls become geishas, and the extraordinary foundation of wealth upon which their culture rests.

This is quite possibly one of the most intriguing autobiographies I have ever read. Having loved the novel by Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha, I delved into the true story of one of the most successful Gion Geiko of recent history, translated from her own words by Rande Brown without losing any of her own voice. Mineko’s story is told in such a gentle and picturesque way that one is instantly transported to a time and place where women have devoted their lives to art and the pleasure of their patrons; the “flower and willow world” where traditional entertainment and intricate ceremonies have been preserved and revered for centuries: The women are shown as being strong and independent as well as sometimes ruthless in their ambition to be the very best, with grueling schedules and a proud tradition of ancient ceremony – they are artists of the highest caliber and treated as such within their widely misunderstood culture.

Far more engaging than Memoirs of a Geisha, this is the real deal with the bones of the industry laid bare for all to see; a story that will stay in the memory long after the covers have been closed.

Orphan of the Sun by Gill Harvey Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: Orphan of the Sun
Gill Harvey
ISBN: 0747579008
Publisher: Bloomsbury
First Published: 2006
No. of pages: 310

Rating: 4/5

Thirteen-year-old orphan, Meryt-Re, lives with her uncle’s family in the ancient Egyptian village of Set Maat, the home of the pharaohs’ tomb-builders. Under pressure to marry Ramose, a dull, plodding stonecutter, she resists, and begs for guidance from the gods, but she’s unable to decipher the message behind her vivid dreams. When her cousin falls gravely ill, her uncle accuses her of turning the gods against him and banishes her from the house. Meanwhile, Meryt discovers other strange and suspicious activities going on in the village: Why is Userkaf, a boisterous draughtsman, trying to cause trouble by making accusations against one of the foremen? And why is his servant girl stealing precious and holy gold amulets from the embalmers? Meryt’s worried too, that her aunt Tia seems to think that her father has not gone peacefully to the Next World, and when she discovers Tia is not the only other person to have been making offerings to him in his tomb, she is even more puzzled. It is not until she meets Teti, the village wise woman, that Meryt can begin to unravel the meaning of her dreams and in so doing, solve the mysteries surrounding her.

Meryt-Re is a very likeable character and it’s very easy to identify with the troubling times she faces. Being solely dependent on the good will of her uncle, she struggles to stay in his good graces in a time when superstition is rife, especially as she has a rather troubling gift is one she would prefer not to have and this has made him wary of his niece. This makes for an interesting study in family dynamics; an excellent backdrop against which the mystery unfolds as Meryt-Re uses her unusual abilities to determine the truth in some disturbing events in her life.

The historical aspect of this novel is intriguing in itself and the rich world of ancient Egypt has new life breathed into it through Gill Harvey’s writing and the sights and sounds of ancient Egyptian are vividly drawn, so that the reader really feels a part of that era.

This book is a treasure not to be missed!

Set In Stone by Linda Newbury Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: Set In Stone
Author: Linda Newbury
ISBN: 0385607482

“To handle stone is to handle the stuff of life and death, of time and change, the mysteries of the Earth itself…”

Fourwinds, a country house close to the South Downs, is the pride of its owner, wealthy widower Ernest Farrow. Samuel Godwin, a gullible young artist employed by Farrow as painter and tutor, is irrevocably drawn into the lives of the three young women at Fourwinds: demure Juliana; Charlotte Agnew, governess and companion, who reveals little of her thoughts and aspirations; and Marianne, the younger daughter, passionate, wilful and unpredictable. Intrigued by Marianne to the point of obsession, Samuel little suspects how thoroughly he is being manipulated.

It’s not only the people who fascinate. Samuel is equally entranced by the house itself: Fourwinds; beautifully designed and furnished in Arts and Crafts style, a house to delight and surprise with the attention paid to every detail. What, though, can account for the absence of the West Wind carving, and the disappearance of its creator, the gifted sculptor Gideon Waring, whose name must never be mentioned in Mr. Farrow’s hearing? Awed by Waring’s skill, Samuel longs to meet him and see more of his work. But in doing so, he uncovers secrets that are both horrifying and dangerous to all.

Set in Stone is incredibly intense and deals with some very adult themes (which are dealt with tactfully and sympathetically) therefore it’s aimed more at the young adult market rather than younger teens. Very well-written and told from the viewpoint of two characters looking in at the family on the brink of madness that employs them. It’s incredibly heady stuff! Love and possession; art and immortality; convention and defiance; ambition and desire: There’s mystery and drama in equal measures which makes for a winning combination, with strong characters, clever plot twists and shocking revelations.


I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: I, Lucifer
Author: Glen Duncan
ISBN: 0743220137
Rating: 4/5

The end is nigh, and the Prince of Darkness has been given one last shot at redemption, if he can manage to live out a reasonably blameless life on earth. The Old Dealmaker negotiates a trial run – a month with all the delights of the flesh. (The flesh: slightly worn, one previous owner; a writer). But the experience of walking amongst us has more pratfalls and detours than Luce foresaw; instead of teaching us what it’s like to be him, Lucifer finds himself beginning to understand what it’s like to be human…

I, Lucifer is devilishly clever, fiendishly funny and angelically beautiful all at once. It’s so jam-packed with description I felt I was literally being bombarded by all that Lucifer experiences all at once, but its so wittily done that it just washed into me and became an integral part of the story. Deeply satirical, Duncan has created a version of the Great Adversary that I could really get on board with – I could sympathise with his predicament and understand the motives for his every move.

The style is light, witty and highly enjoyable – I whizzed through it at lightning pace and loved every roller-coater moment of it.

Vampire Blood Trilogy (Books 1-3 of The Saga of Darren Shan) by Darren Shan Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: Vampire Blood Trilogy (Books 1-3 of The Saga of Darren Shan)
Author: Darren Shan
ISBN: 0007143745
Rating: 4/5

Cirque du Freak
Darren Shan’s an ordinary schoolboy, until he and his best friend Steve get tickets to the Cirque Du Freak, a bizarre freak show featuring such arcane performers as Hans Hands, Gertha Teeth, the Wolf Man and Rhamus Twobellies. In the midst of the ghoulish excitement, true terror raises its head when Steve recognises that one of the performers — Mr. Crepsley — is in fact a vampire!

Steve remains after the show finishes, to confront the vampire — but his motives are anything but ordinary! In the shadows of a crumbling theatre, a horrified Darren eavesdrops on his friend and the vampire, and is witness to a monstrous, disturbing plea.

Later, in a moment of insane daring, Darren sets out to steal the vampire’s magnificent performing tarantula, an act which will have severe, tragic consequences for both Darren and Steve. Their lives will never be the same again…

The Vampire’s Assistant
Having abandoned his old way of life to unwillingly serve as Mr. Crepsley’s assistant, Darren must accustom himself to the habits of vampires. But the change is difficult and the loneliness is crushing.

In an attempt to give Darren a sense of stability, Mr. Crepsley takes him to live at the Cirque Du Freak, where he is to share a tent with Evra Von — the Snake Boy introduced in Book 1. Darren soon fits into his new position — even if he doesn’t exactly enjoy hunting food for the ominous Little People! — and he and Evra befriend a curious young boy called Sam Grest, whose one great wish is to join the travelling freak show.

But all is not well with Darren. He refuses to drink human blood, even though he’ll die without it. While Mr. Crepsley argues with him, and tries forcing him to drink, Darren grows weaker and weaker. Will he resist the temptation of blood and sacrifice himself for the benefit of his humanity — or will some awful turn of events lead to his becoming a true, blood-sucking creature of the night???

Tunnels of Blood
Shortly after an old friend’s visit, Mr. Crepsley leaves the Cirque Du Freak and heads for a city, taking Darren and Evra with him. The boys enjoy their stay in the city. Evra soaks up a lot of TV shows, while Darren catches the eye of pretty young Debbie Hemlock! But Mr. Crepsley’s behaving strangely, patrolling the streets every night, saying nothing of his purpose to Darren or Evra.

Then, in the run-up to Christmas, police discover several human bodies hidden in an old building — each of which has been drained of blood! Darren and Evra are horrified, and immediately set about shadowing Mr. Crepsley, on the understanding that if he’s the killer, they’re going to stop him — by any means necessary!

In a blood-soaked abattoir, Darren confronts his mentor, and aims for his throat with a rusty butcher’s knife. But this attack is just the start of the true nightmare, and soon Darren finds himself fighting not just for his own life, but for the lives of his friends, Debbie and Evra, both of whom are threatened by a force of sinister, murderous evil …

It’s well known that kids tend to like a good gross-out and Darren Shan delivers on every level. There’s plenty of the nasty blood and guts on offer, but there’s also a rip-roaring adventure and voyage of self discovery within the bounds of an ongoing tale of terror. It has thrills and spills at every twist and turn – the characters are fun and the action is fast-paced without letting the development suffer. This is well-written and animated and should delight readers, especially boys, from about 10 and upwards, but it’s equally fun for older readers who like a good, old-fashioned chiller every now and then.

And anyone who doesn’t like spiders (like me!) will get shivers down their spines!


The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: The Constant Princess
Author: Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 000719031X
Rating: 4/5

Katherine of Aragon. We think of her as the barren wife of a notorious king; but behind this legacy lies a fascinating story. Katherine of Aragon is born Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, to parents who are both rulers and warriors. Aged four, she is betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and is raised to be Queen of England. She is never in doubt that it is her destiny to rule that far-off, wet, cold land. Her faith is tested when her prospective father-in-law greets her arrival in her new country with a great insult; Arthur seems little better than a boy; the food is strange and the customs coarse. Slowly she adapts to the first Tudor court, and life as Arthur’s wife grows ever more bearable. But when the studious young man dies, she is left to make her own future: how can she now be queen, and found a dynasty? Only by marrying Arthur’s young brother, the sunny but spoilt Henry. His father and grandmother are against it; her powerful parents prove little use. Yet Katherine is her mother’s daughter and her fighting spirit is strong. She will do anything to achieve her aim; even if it means telling the greatest lie, and holding to it.

Returning to a study of Tudor royalty, Gregory is certainly on top form. The story is intricate, yet it seems to whiz by at lightening pace. Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, is often seen as the dull 1st wife, set aside by Henry VIII, but this fictional retelling of fact shows her as a determined and strong woman who knew her mind and did her level best to succeed in what she saw as her destiny – the be a good Queen of England. This is engaging stuff and one into which any fan of historical fiction will find a pleasure to sink.

Redwulf’s Curse (A Tom Marlowe Adventure, Book 3) by Chris Priestley Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: Redwulf’s Curse
Author: Chris Priestley
ISBN: 00552554839
Rating: 4/5

Tom and Dr Harker are back and this time their adventure takes them outside London. They visit a friend in Norfolk, Mr. Gibbs, who has recently unearthed fabulous Anglo-Saxon treasures from an archaeological excavation. They are believed to have belonged to the East Anglian king, Redwulf. Local legend tells of a ghostly guardian of the king’s tomb and a curse against anyone who threatens it. When not one but two murders occur in the household, it is hard to dismiss the legend. As everyone feels threatened and the atmosphere of hostility increases, Tom and Harker investigate. Discovering in fact that Gibbs’ wife is behind the attacks seems to explain what’s been happening. But then Tom sees an unidentifiable figure in the mist… This is an exciting and atmospheric story set in the eighteenth-century and delving into our Anglo-Saxon past.

This final instalment in the Tom Marlowe Adventure trilogy is every bit as engaging as the previous instalments and has just a touch of Sherlock Holmes’ style with mysterious happenings, a devilish dog and a ghostly figure on the moor. A rip-roaring read from start to finish.

The White Rider (A Tom Marlowe Adventure, Book 2) by Chris Priestley Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: The White Rider (Tom Marlowe Adventure Book 2)
Author: Chris Priestley
ISBN: 055255474X
Rating: 4/5

It is London, 1716. The streets are full of spies and buzzing with intrigue. Jacobite rebels are being rounded up and hanged at Tower Hill, and on the outskirts of London the roads are haunted by a mysterious Highwayman known only as The White Rider; a robber so fierce that he kills his victims simply by pointing at them! Tom Marlowe, caught in the fascinating heart of events, is resolved to get to the bottom of them. With the help of his mentor, Dr Harker, Tom is determined to discover who is behind the White Rider’s gruesome mask. But Dr Harker seems to be keeping secrets of his own. Who is the mysterious stranger with the Scottish accent seen at Harker’s house? And why does the Doctor lie when questioned about him? Highly atmospheric, with a gripping plot this historical adventure will fascinate and engage readers.

Chris Priestley has taken the characters he introduced in Death and the Arrow and developed them, so that the reader grows with Tom and is introduced to another round of murder and intrigue. Priestly never condescends to the reader and instead encourages deductive skills and complex thinking while never once losing the plot. The perfect sequel with equal parts excitement, adventure and fun!

Death and the Arrow (A Tom Marlowe Adventure Book 1) by Chris Priestley Monday, Feb 13 2012 

Title: Death and the Arrow (Tom Marlowe Adventure Book 1)
Author: Chris Priestley
ISBN: 0552554758
Rating: 4/5

Fifteen-year-old Tom lives in the murky, sooty city of London, where he helps his father to run a print shop. Among the customers is wise old Dr Harker, a retired physician and seafarer, whose patient demeanor and fascinating tales endear him to Tom. When Tom and Harker hear a newspaper seller announce a most curious murder in the city, with the victim pierced by an arrow and left holding an illustrated card of ‘Death and the Arrow’, they are both intrigued by the mystery. As subsequent ‘Death and the Arrow’ victims are discovered, the mystery closes ever more tightly round the city and intrudes even into Tom’s own life. From then onwards, he can’t rest till he has discovered the truth behind the murders. This is a really atmospheric venture into the eighteenth-century, combined with a gripping mystery plot, that will fascinate and engage readers of ten and upwards.

It was books like this one that turned me into a bookworm in the first place! From the very first page, there’s excitement and adventure, engaging characters and a murder-mystery that will keep you guessing till the last page. Chris Priestley is a bold writer who dares to tread where others fear to go, which means we’re treated to a thrilling story that wouldn’t be out of place in any crime collection. This is the perfect book for young readers to explore both historical fiction and daring action-adventure.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden Friday, Feb 13 2009 

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: Arthur Golden
ISBN: 0099771519
Rating: 4/5

“A true Geisha can stop a man with a single look.”

Summoning up more than twenty years of Japan‘s most dramatic history, it uncovers a hidden world of eroticism and enchantment, exploitation and degradation. From a small fishing village in 1929, the tale moves to the glamorous and decadent heart of Kyoto in the 1930s, where a young peasant girl is sold as servant and apprentice to a renowned geisha house. She tells her story many years later from the Waldorf Astoria in New York; it exquisitely evokes another culture, a different time and the details of an extraordinary way of life. It conjures up the perfection and the ugliness of life behind rice-paper screens, where young girls learn the arts of geisha – dancing and singing, how to wind the kimono, how to walk and pour tea, and how to beguile the most powerful men.

Due to the publicity surrounding the film, I was drawn to the book and am so pleased it lived up to my expectations. Although it moves at a sedate pace, every chapter manages to feel momentous, even if only in a small way at times, and the richly drawn world of a Gion Geisha is vividly brought to life. Descriptions of the many kimono and tea ceremonies manage to instill a feeling of grandeur to the tale, despite the humble beginnings of the heroine.

The plot isn’t action-packed and is, at times, predictable, but this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of reading the story and I found myself completely immersed in the evocative and provocative life of these women who live purely to entertain men in accordance to ancient tradition, without thought of their own happiness or ever feeling free to experience love for themselves.

At times it is quite harrowing – the depiction of a culture that will sell it’s daughters into a life of servitude, whether as a potential Geisha or to a life of domestic servitude, seems worlds away from the Western ideal, and yet there is something appealing in the former (though definitely not the latter), with all the mystery surrounding them – yet at other times, there is pure hope shining out from between the pages and it is ultimately an uplifting story with a positive slant.

For me, it has spawned a previously unrealized interest in the Japanese culture and I will most certainly be reading more books of a similar ilk, however, I think this one will shine like a pearl and stand out as something precious and special no matter how many I read.

Q&A by Vikas Swarup Friday, Feb 13 2009 

Title: Q&A (republished as Slumdog Millionaire)
Author: Vikas Swarup
ISBN: 055277250X
Rating: 4/5

Eighteen-year-old Ram Mohammad Thomas is in prison after answering twelve questions correctly on a TV quiz show to win one billion rupees. The producers have arrested him, convinced that he has cheated his way to victory. Twelve extraordinary events in street-kid Ram’s life – how he was found in a dustbin by a priest; came to have three names; fooled a professional hit-man; even fell in love – give him the crucial answers…

I wasn’t convinced that this would be “my kind of book”, but I have never been happier to admit I was wrong. Q&A is both heart-warming and gripping story that takes the reader on a tag-along tour of Ram’s life whilst commenting on religious bigotry, child abuse, poverty, exploitation, espionage and Bollywood culture.

This is one of the most interesting and unusual novels I’ve read in a long time – well worth picking up if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary that explores deeper issues from a different angle.

Q&A has been adapted for the big screen as Slumdog Millionaire.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel Friday, Feb 13 2009 

Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel
ISBN: 184195392X
Rating: 4/5

“Japanese-owned cargo ship Tsimtsum, flying Panamanian flag. Sank July 2nd 1977 in Pacific Ocean, four days out of Manila. Am in life boat. Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem.Please advise family in Winnipeg, Canada. Any help very much appreciated. Thank you.”

This extraordinary tale of the 16-year-old son of an Indian zookeeper, drifting in a 21-foot lifeboat with an adult male Royal Bengal tiger aboard, is nothing short of amazing. It’s fantastically whimsical, yet harshly real, showing the hardship of survival at sea under the most unusual circumstances ever witnessed: A seven-month epic journey into the unknown with an uncertain outcome.

It’s a wonderful story, cleverly written to draw the reader into what should be completely unbelievable, yet manages to convince one that this could actually happen. No wonder Life of Pi won The Man Booker Prize in 2002.

Don’t let the “critical literary acclaim” put you off – this is pure escapism at its finest and a highly recommended page-turner.

Wolf Girl by Theresa Tomlinson Friday, Feb 13 2009 

Title: Wolf Girl
Author: Theresa Tomlinson
ISBN: 0552552712
Rating: 4/5

Cwen, a poor weaver struggling to make a living at Whitby Abbey, is accused of possessing a valuable necklace that cannot possibly be hers. If she is found guilty she could be hanged, burned or stoned. Cwen’s daughter, Wulfrun, desperate to prove her mother’s innocence, encounters lies and treachery wherever she turns for help. Set in a turbulent period of Anglo-Saxon England, this is a story of a resourceful, dauntless heroine, determined and clever as a wolf. Through defying rank and convention, braving wind, weather and marauding armies, Wulfrun shows that courage has its own just reward.

This is one of the best books I read in 2006. Exciting, adventurous and a richly woven story that brings Anglo-Saxon Northumbria vividly to life. The characters are warm and engaging, the plot is intriguing and the journey of self-discovery will appeal to all young readers as they join Wulfrun in trying to unravel the mystery of the necklace. The underlying message is to trust in yourself and not to judge a book by its cover, as help can come from the most unlikely places!

Theresa Tomlinson is a highly talented storyteller and this story will appeal to older readers and young adults.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris Friday, Feb 13 2009 

Title: Chocolat
Author: Joanne Harris
ISBN: 0552998486
Rating: 4/5

When an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, arrives in the French village of Lansquenet and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church, Father Reynaud identifies her as a serious danger to his flock – especially as it is the beginning of Lent, the traditional season of self-denial. War is declared as the priest denounces the newcomer’s wares as the ultimate sin.

Suddenly Vianne’s shop-cum-café means that there is somewhere for secrets to be whispered, grievances to be aired, dreams to be tested. But Vianne’s plans for an Easter Chocolate Festival divide the whole community in a conflict that escalates into a ‘Church not Chocolate’ battle. As mouths water in anticipation, can the solemnity of the Church compare with the Pagan passion of a chocolate éclair?

Chocolat is every bit as sumptuous as its title suggests – a deliciously wicked concoction of indulgence, fun, flirtation and temptation between the covers! The characters are completely believable, even in the extremes of their beliefs and actions, and the conflict between those on the side of the Church and those in favour of a more flavoursome life is electric; drawing the reader into the close-knit community to become a part of the action.

The arrival of the Travellers adds an extra element of tension as those who are more tolerant of more unusual lifestyles welcome them with open arms, whereas the more staid inhabitants try everything within their power to not only make them feel unwelcome, but to run them out of town. It’s through characters such as Vianne and Armande that the easy-going friendliness of strangers is portrayed and also through them, a joy of revelling in life’s little pleasures while they have the chance. The over-riding message throughout is that a little bit of what you fancy does you good and denying yourself love and pleasure completely can only lead to obsession.

A tantalising story that tempts you: Try me… Test me… Taste me… You’ll want to come back for more!

24 Hours by Greg Iles Friday, Feb 13 2009 

Title: 24 Hours
Author: Greg Iles
ISBN: 0340770066
Rating: 4/5

The perfect family. The perfect night. The perfect crime.

Will and Karen Jennings are a successful young couple with every reason to celebrate. From modest beginnings they have built the life of their dreams. Will has a thriving medical practice, and stands at the threshold of a great fortune. Karen has designed a magnificent house to shelter them and the five-year-old daughter they love beyond measure. But now they have been targeted by an evil madman and they are about to be tested in a way they could never imagine.

The tight writing style of Iles is perfect for this tense thriller. The plot is sophisticated and riveting, and the pace never lets up for a second, keeping you gripped; sharing the same terror and determination as the Jennings as they get through the longest 24 hours in their lives. There is a sense of urgency throughout made all the more poignant by the fragility of the characters as the story unfolds.

It’s a rip-roaring, non-stop roller-coaster ride that constantly batters you from all directions, leaving you uncomfortably disorientated, which only helps intensify the emotional turmoil, and you find yourself feeling hatred and pity in turn for the “bad guys”, humanising them in a way not often attained in a thriller. You also find yourself plunged into the dilemma of “what would I do?” and this also keeps you turning those pages.

If you’ve never read Iles, pick this one up and I guarantee, you’ll be promising yourself another of his books very soon.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory Wednesday, Jan 21 2009 

Title: The Other Boleyn Girl
Author: Philippa Gregory
ISBN: 0006514006
Rating: 4/5

Mary Boleyn catches the eye of Henry VIII when she comes to court as a girl of fourteen. Dazzled by the golden prince, Mary’s joy is cut short when she discovers that she is a pawn in the dynastic plots of her family. When the capricious king’s interest wanes, Mary is ordered to pass on her knowledge of how to please him to her friend and rival: her sister Anne.

Anne soon becomes irresistible to Henry, and Mary can do nothing but watch her sister’s rise. Anne stops at nothing to achieve her own ambition. From now on, Mary will be no more than the other Boleyn girl. But beyond the court is a man who dares to challenge the power of her family to offer Mary a life of freedom and passion.If only she has the courage to break away – before the Boleyn enemies turn on the Boleyn girls…

With The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory offers a tantalising glimpse at the life of one of history’s forgotten women – Mary Boleyn, younger sister of Anne who would go on to become Queen of England. The history of this story is interesting enough, but the richness of description and depth of character development mean that this is more than merely interesting to read – its compulsive!

I found myself able to sympathise with all three of the Boleyn siblings, in particular George, who has to deny his own sexuality and performs above and beyond the call of duty to further advance his beloved sister (although just how far he is willing to go would seem too far by any normal standard).

Mary’s predicament – of being both very young and very married – when presented to the King by her own family as a potential lover, is horrifying to say the least. That a family could be so coldly calculating in their ambition as to force their own daughters into such a precarious position is difficult to believe, and yet history itself tells us it is so – the Boleyns and the Howards were determined to see their fortunes rise by whatever means possible.

It makes for a tale that is both chilling and heart-warming in turn, set against the lavish background of the Tudor court that is so colourful and bright that the reader is lost in the madness of corruption and power plays. If Gregory’s other works are anything like this one, then I will heartily recommend picking them all up as soon as possible.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult Wednesday, Jan 21 2009 

Title: My Sister’s Keeper
Author: Jodi Piccoult
ISBN: 034083546X
Rating: 4/5

Anna is not sick, but she might as well be. By age thirteen, she has undergone countless surgeries, transfusions, and injection to help her sister, Kate, fight leukaemia. Anna was born for this purpose, her parents tell her, which is why they lover her even more. But now she can’t help but wonder what her life would be like if it weren’t tied to her sister’s… and so she makes a decision that for most, at any age, would be too difficult to bear, and sues her parents for the rights to her own body.

My Sister’s Keeper is very cleverly written – in the first person from multiple points of view. In this way, the reader is never allowed to get bogged down in any one character’s thoughts or emotions, but is forced to open themselves to the vulnerabilities of each of them.

It’s a story that really makes you think, long and hard, about all sorts of moral and ethical dilemmas and consider what your own actions might be under similar circumstances, which, of course, is impossible to do unless you are smack-bang in the middle of it yourself.

Piccoult doesn’t allow the seriousness of the subject to darken the tone at all and her style remains light enough to keep this from being an incredibly depressing tome and instead it comes across as something light and emotionally inspiring, and it features some of the most evocative passages I have read in a very long time – Anna’s own creation myth is something completely surprising and is both beautiful and sad; giving a very telling glimpse into her state of mind.

I won’t lie and say I didn’t see the twist in the tale coming, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried real tears anyway, because although I didn’t want it to be so, it was the most fitting way for things to happen.

My Sister’s Keeper is something rather special and will linger in the memory long after the final page has been turned. The characters are all flawed, all sympathetic, and all human – their portrayal is incredibly real and you can’t help imagining their lives continuing outside of the story we get to see. I can only hope they’re happy.

Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon Tuesday, Jan 20 2009 

Title: Cross Stitich
Author: Diana Gabaldon
ISBN: 0099911701
Rating: 4/5

In 1945, Claire Randall is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon in Scotland. Innocently she walks through a stone circle in the Highlands, and finds herself in a violent skirmish taking place in 1743. Suddenly she is a Sassenach, an outlander, in a country torn by war and by clan feuds. A wartime nurse, Claire can deal with the bloody wounds that face her. But it is harder to deal with the knowledge that she is in Jacobite Scotland and the carnage of Culloden is looming. Marooned amid the passion and violence, the superstition, the shifting allegiances and the fervent loyalties, Claire is in danger from Jacobites and Redcoats – and from the shock of her own desire for James Fraser, a gallant and courageous young Scots warrior. Jamie shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire, and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

Cross Stitch (published in the US as Outlander, which is, in my opinion, the far better title) is the first in the Outlander series and what a beginning it is! This is quite the freshest and most exhilarating read I’ve had in a very long time, and that’s really saying something! Living in Scotland and having visited some of the places mentioned brought it all that much closer to home and I was able to fully immerse myself in this unusual talethat transcends time. The fact that the “modern” portion of the plot takes place in the past (post-war) only made it seem all the more plausible and I was quite happy to accept that someone might be able to step through a stone circle and find themselves out of their own time by 200 years or so (I always knew there was a definite purpose to stone circles!).

Throughout the story, I could feel Claire’s struggle to reconcile the aspects of her unique position. Should she use her knowledge of the future to shape events and prevent the deaths of many innocent people, or should she let time take its own course and leave history intact? Is her very presence in the past affecting the outcome of future events and is she endangering the existence of people in her own time? It’s a dilemma that devils her constantly.

There is such passion in Gabaldon’s writing that it was easy to lose myself in her vision of the Highlands and I found myself falling in love with Jamie just a little bit, as he is described in such a way that, even with all his faults and foibles, he’s pretty much irresistible. I wanted to put off finishing this book forever, just so I would have more of it to look forward to the next day, at the same time, I found it nigh-on impossible to actually out it down, torn as I was, and happily let myself be carried along by Gabaldon as she wove her rich tapestry of words.

An absolute must-read.

The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds / I Cthulu by Neil Gaiman Monday, Jan 19 2009 

Title: The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds / I Cthulu
Author: Neil Gaiman
ISBN: -none- (online short stories)
Rating: 4/5 and 3/5

The Case of the Four and Twenty Blackbirds – a nurseryland detective story
I Cthulu – a satirical take on Lovecraft’s famous tale

The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds is a work of pure, unadulterated genius! It takes a background of Nurseryland and sets in it a gripping gumshoe story – Humpty Dumpty is dead and it may not have been an accident. It’s up to Jack Horner (small of stature) to investigate in true film-noir style. It’s quite the most inventive thing I’ve read in ages and hilarious to boot – really you must go and read it for yourself!

I Cthulu wasn’t really to my taste, but that could be because I’ve never actually read any Lovecraft. I’m certain that anyone who’s read The Call of Cthulu will be able to tell you exactly how funny this piece it. As it is, it gave me a giggle, but little more.

Both are available at Neil Gaiman’s official website.

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